Chapter Twenty-six

The ocean.

An icy shiver ran down Khiray's spine. The water continued endlessly, to the horizon and beyond - and, other than on the Sea of Alvanere, there was no shore hidden in the mist. A thousand kilometers of water, and again a thousand kilometers, an area far bigger than the Armygan, with only a few islands embedded in the blue vastness. A dozen unknown lands waited, immeasurably far away, populated by strangers.

The Armygan ended here, just like his past. Capricious like the ocean, his future awaited him.

The eastern harbor extended as far as the big shipyards; its quays stretched out into the water like the teeth of a comb. The big ships with three and four masts lay at the longest quays near the river mouth. The quays for smaller ships, coast vessels and cutters were a bit farther away. Storehouses and sheds graced the other side of the harbor stretch. Steam-powered wooden cranes rolled along on rails, hissing all the time. Even something like the Oo'men trains was present: a chain of linked freight cars shunting back and forth.

Nowhere else in the Armygan steam power, magic and technology, mechanics and machines were used as intensively as in Drun'kaal. Each day, dozens of ships were mooring here, were unloaded and loaded again; the workers filled the harbor with frantic activity, while the Seafurrys used the time for a well-deserved shore leave.

Khiray had heard that some Oo'men cities had bigger harbors and more marvellous buildings, somewhere in the Empire of Dharwil, along a different coast of an alien ocean. But for someone who was used to the peace of small villages and the isolation of the Oo'men mountain cities, the view was bewildering.

Once as a boy he had been here, an ingenuous child of the countryside, and he had had the time to discover things and experience adventures. But he had no longer a taste for excitement. There was no whispered secret behind the hectic rush of the harbor, no hidden treasure.

His fate waited out there, beyond the water.

The Foxtaur ship was a two-masted vessel with a stocky hull, an unarmed merchant ship for the coast routes. Boxes and bales waited on the quay to be loaded. Kinnih sat on one of the bales and watched eagerly as a Foxtauress discussed something with three Wolfish workers.

The cart stopped nearby. Khiray paid the draggers and went together with Delley and Fryyk over to Kinnih. The young Badger greeted them as if they had been separated for weeks. In short words Delley explained to him what had happened. Kinnih was horrified by the loss of the 'Silver Ansicc'. The ship had been his home as well, after all, and his possessions, just like Delley's, were lost with it. Khiray was almost ashamed for having his kitbag - he was the only one who had managed to save some personal belongings. Wasn't it strange how inner voices could sense the future? Or why else had he packed the bag?

Kinnih gave Khiray the Dekka'shin. "We didn't need it; there don't seem to be any street robbers here."

"We would have needed it", Delley grumbled. "And the street robbers probably all were hired by Galbren for his army."

"We don't even know whether the Archangel's power would have helped against Galbren, or whether it only works with Demons", Khiray scolded him.

"You destroyed Alvanere with it", Kinnih reminded him.

Khiray nodded slowly. Yes, maybe the Dekka'shin had spewed fire and flames against Galbren's mercenaries, and he wouldn't have been forced to sacrifice the 'Ansicc'. The weapon weighed heavily in his hand. Had he, once again, made the wrong decision?

But it was pointless to think about the past. Things had happened, and as sad as the loss might be - Galbren had died with the ship. The traitorous governor had met his well-deserved end. The thought gave Khiray a grim satisfaction.

Then he realized something. "Where's Perlish?" The Deer was nowhere to see.

Kinnih raised his shoulders. "He made himself scarce. Said that his part of the deal was fulfilled, and he had to hire some good cutpurses now to relieve the rich sods of the city of some of their property."

"He meets an Archangel and returns to his thieving ways nevertheless", Delley groaned incredulously.

"I didn't expect something else", Khiray sighed.

"He took two Troll steel swords with him", Kinnih remarked.

The swords they had taken from Hhrugha again. Khiray didn't notice that the Deer was carrying them when they left the 'Ansicc'. Well, this way one Furry at least had some good out of them - they didn't lie on the ground of the river. What a pity Perlish/Pakkaht would use them for his future crimes. Khiray had no illusions about Perlish: he was not a loveable rogue, no misunderstood freedom fighter. He took from the rich not to give it to the poor but to keep it for himself and his former gang. He had robbed, killed, raped, terrorized innocent Furrys and spent a life outside of the law. He might have his good points, but all in all he deserved the dungeons.

Maybe their paths would cross again one day. But for the moment, Khiray decided to forget him.

Himself, Delley, Kinnih, Fryyk. They were the last Furrys of the 'Ansicc'. All others were dead or left behind. The old crew, Saswin, Farlin. Kaslin-Ray, Shooshun, Pallys, Sarmeen, Pakkaht. The Foxtaurs. The fight against the Demons had demanded more victims than Khiray cared to count.

"Did the Foxtaurs help Saljin?" the Fox demanded to know. He could have saved himself the question; if Saljin had been in danger, Kinnih would not have sat calmly on his bale.

"She's on the ship; a doctor is looking for her", the young Badger replied. "I have already told them that Saljin came to the Armygan to buy some medicine. They knew all about it, although I couldn't tell them the name of the stuff; I gave them some of the gold so they could buy six loads of it."

Relieved, Khiray nodded. He had forgotten about the gold he had given to Kinnih. The Badger had seen to everything; in these days, he seemed to have more prudence than Khiray himself. "One day you'll be a good captain", the Fox stated.

Kinnih beamed with joy. "I'll be, captain!"

The Foxtauress seemed to have finished her discussion with the workers and came over to the small group. She was much older than Saljin, rather of Aryfaa's age, and her fur was ruffled and strained by the salty sea winds. Old scars drew white traces through her chestnut hair. She was sturdy, muscular and probably as tough as old leather. "You are Khiray, captain of the 'Silver Ansicc'?"

The Fox straightened. "I am Khiray of the River. My ship has been destroyed a short time ago, thus I cannot lay claim to the title 'captain' any more."

The Foxtauress looked at him thoughtfully. "Of the River, eh? A Foxtaur name. Did she confer it on you?" She made a gesture with her head in the direction of the ship.


"I am Balashain of the Green Cliffs, captain of the 'Doorken'. One day we have to swap the stories of our names. I hope you are an able storyteller."

"I am a merchant, no storyteller at all, but I think the story will satisfy you nonetheless. - How is she?"

Balashain frowned. "Not very good, not very bad either." She waved him to follow her. Together they entered the ship by a swaying plank.

Ocean ships were built very differently from river ships, and the 'Doorken' wasn't even a steamer. Ropes were stretched everywhere, ran over reels, were wound up on spools. The wood was tarred, the scent of fish and salt clenched to every crack. The superstructure was low and provided hardly more than access for the cabins under deck; everything else would have been in the way of the sails and shrouds. Three or four Foxtaurs moved on the deck, too few for a whole crew.

They descended a staircase that seemed too steep and too narrow for Foxtaurs, but Balashain moved on her ship with the ease of years of practice.

Saljin was in a low, uncomfortable room that was not comparable with anything on the 'Ansicc'; even the cheapest cabins there had been more spacious.

"I quartered her here in my own cabin", Balashain remarked. "It's the biggest one on the ship. The crew sleeps with three or four in their own rooms; it wouldn't be a good idea to place her in a hammock there." Khiray was glad that he had remained silent about the room. At least there was something resembling a bed with a mattress here.

A male Foxtaur was examining Saljin, probably the doctor, very old and with white streaks in his fur. "I gave her some Poloh, she's sleeping now. You are Khiray?"

The Fox nodded.

"I am Golathar of the Storm Forests. Where the heck did she get those wounds?"

"That's a long story. Will she completely recover?" He knelt beside her bed and inspected Saljin's sleeping body.

"Sooner or later... I cleaned all her wounds, but that older injury on her upper body looks as if it will trouble her somewhat. She's young, she's strong, but the fever has weakened her quite a bit, and she'll need some weeks of rest."

Gently, Khiray stroked Saljin's ears. "The injury on her upper body is just as fresh as the others. As I said, a long story."

"She shouldn't travel right now, but the weather along the coast is very mild at this time of the year, and we don't expect any problems. She's better off at Golden Shore than among two-leggers." The doctor wrinkled his muzzle disapprovingly. "I just hope she's got any relatives there. If I got it right, she's from the Daymotal area, not from the coast. Someone has to take care of her as soon as we're there; she can't travel any farther with us."

Khiray nodded. "I will accompany her."

Golathar snorted. "A two-legger in Foxtaur Territory? That's uncommon. Do you want to take her back to her home? That's a thousand kilometer journey! There are no fancy carts, Fox, no pretty river ships, and no paved streets! Where we live, one carries his belongings on the back and hunts his own food!"

Balashain nudged Golathar's side, obviously trying to be inconspicuous. The doctor looked at her reproachfully, but the captain nodded ambiguously into Khiray's direction. Golathar followed her gaze, finally seemed to understand and puffed himself up, but didn't say anything.

Khiray found it difficult to leave Saljin. But he had a final task to fulfill. Drunlord Kooradah had to learn about Galbren's treason. Now, with Galbren dead, that procedure shouldn't take too long. There was little more to do for him but to tell his story in front of a truthfinder. When the high tide came and the Foxtaurs cast off, he'd be back.

He even took the time to wash properly and to clean his clothing that was soiled by the river water. He couldn't appear at the court as a mud-stinking beggar. The shoes alone couldn't be dried fast enough; the leather was saturated with water. Regretfully Khiray abstained from putting them on again.

He left the kitbag on the ship, but took the gold and the Dekka'shin with him. The Dekka'shin would help him to make his tale more believable - facing the incredible things he had to convey, the sober confirmation of a truthfinder might not be impressive enough to proclaim the real threat by Galbren and the Demons.

Actually, it didn't matter. He didn't have to persuade someone; the incorruptible truthfinders couldn't be deceived.

Kooradah had to hear about it, of course; there was a vacant position as governor to fill; then there were Galbren's soldiers who waited somewhere along the river for new commands that would never arrive. The 'Gold Nugget' had to be salvaged, unless other captains had discovered the ship already, and Galbren's other ship, the 'Laidanna', was orphaned as well. The wreck of the 'Silver Ansicc' had to be cleared. And there was the question of a reward. Khiray didn't set big hopes in that; Kooradah's generosity was not among the praised qualities of the Drunlord. But he owed it to Delley, Kinnih and Fryyk to make the attempt. Fryyk could return to the Otters; he had suffered no loss on this journey. But Delley and Kinnih were without ship and without job. While he went with Saljin, they would stay behind in the Armygan.

He asked Balashain for the exact time of departure. There were some hours left, enough for his tale if he could get an audience with the Drunlord at once. And he would; he was determined to take care of that.

Then he left the Foxtaurs and his friends and set out on his way to the palace of the Drunlord, the ruler of the Armygan.

* * *

The palace lay on a hill, surrounded by spacious parks, avenues and splendid old villas. From here, one could overlook a wide part of the city. The building itself consisted of a not too harmonious confusion of towers, domes, columns, extensions, balconies and bay windows. Originally a simple square of walls with a round, dome-crowned main section in its center and four massive residential buildings at the corners, it had been modified and enlarged again and again during the centuries. Towers in the center square, extensions of the residential houses, whole new wings of the palace connected with the older parts by street-spanning bridges, and roomy stables that opened towards the parks provided evidence of the Drunlords' fantasy. They allowed themselves generously what they forbade the owners of the surrounding blocks - changing the buildings' style.

Kooradah, or so they said, wasn't averse to grandeur, but he hadn't yet immortalized his name by new changes of the palace; he allegedly was too miserly for building measures. When Khiray inspected the structure, though, he didn't have the impression that miserliness was the reason: the roofs couldn't possibly carry more marble gargoyles, the walls couldn't bear any more golden decorations.

The entrance gate alone was a dozen meters high; the actual doors were set into them - for something as trivial as people entering or leaving the palace, no one could (or wanted to) move the giant gate wings each and every time.

The inside of the gate building consisted of a single big hall with little guard rooms set into the walls. Hallways branched off from here, staircases led to other stories, and a multitude of doors hid more entrances and accesses.

A colorfully clothed Badger addressed Khiray, rubbing his hands. "How may I be of service to Your Excellency?"

The Fox cleared his throat. The garish dress of the Badger seemed to hint at a high position - or maybe it was just a matter of fashion. He decided not to appear as a petitioner. "I'd like to have an audience with Drunlord Kooradah."

The Badger giggled. "Sure, that's easy to arrange." He didn't let Khiray know that he would be more accessable with an appropriate bribe; maybe he recognized a country Fox by his less elaborate and more usable clothing. "Perhaps in half a year, or do you want it a little earlier?"

Khiray frowned. "Now."

For a moment an expression of genuine surprise flashed on the Badger's muzzle, then he grinned. "Now? I don't think that's possible. The audiences with the Drunlord have to be arranged in advance; the Drunlord is very busy."

The Fox played with a gold coin. "It is a matter of utmost urgency."

The Badger followed the wanderings of the coin across Khiray's fingers, then he seemed to decide that such a small fee wasn't worth bothering. "Everyone who wants to speak to the Drunlord has a matter of utmost urgency, else he wouldn't dare to demand audience with the Drunlord. The Drunlord can get very annoyed if someone wastes his time with trivialities, and his wrath lasts long and reaches far."

Khiray put the coin away. "I think the Drunlord will be most interested in what I have to tell him. May I speak to him now, or do I have to address someone who is more competent than a simple reception officer?"

The other Furry snorted. "I am Reception Officer First Class! And it is a high honor that I even talk to someone who enters the palace without shoes!"

"I'd like to speak to the Drunlord. Now. Please. Without any more fuss. I don't have much time."

The Badger turned around. "Off with you, Fox. The Drunlord has better things to do than to speak to vagabonds and ruffians."

Khiray directed the Dekka'shin to the ceiling and concentrated.

Magic lies within the spirit. The will conquers the powers.

The light flooded the whole hall. Fireballs raced across the walls, leaving blackened trails. Spiral light specters rotated below the ceiling. The foundations of the gate building trembled. Golden ornaments jumped from their supports and crashed down. The spectacle continued until the last lackey in the hall had run for cover. Khiray alone stood in the center of the room.

"May I see the Drunlord now?" he asked gently.

The Badger crawled from his hiding-place. "Right now, right now. The Drunlord will receive you any moment." He waved Khiray along and led him through a simple door into a labyrinth of passages and hallways, ante-rooms and corridors. The Fox had the impression as if the reception officer misled him by design, but confronted with the exceptional architecture of the palace he had to admit that maybe he was wrong... after all, he had never been here before.

Finally they crossed a bridge leading directly to the round building in the middle of the original palace square. The stocky central tower had a diameter of about thirty meters and was just as high. The dome of colorful stained glass crowned the tower with another fifteen meters and reduced the impression of austere plainness that had distinguished the central building prior to countless additions and redecorations.

A massive oak door led into the tower, but in front of that door a Wolf stood, clothed in a sleeveless, wide open coat and nothing else, not even a loincloth. The coat alone, of dark blue color and lined with mystical symbols, showed that he was a magician. The fact that he wore no other clothing, no shoes as well, proved that he was either of very low rank - or of such a high standing that he didn't need to underline his importance by fashionable accessoires.

He was more than good-looking, he was beautiful - tall, muscular, graceful, with a shining light grey fur. His proportions were as perfect as a portrait of a God. Every muscle found its place in a harmonic ideal. At the same time, he was almost femininely slender, and so well-groomed as if he had placed every hair of his pelt by hand into its shape.

The Wolf looked at Khiray, smiling. The involuntarily twitching tail that stuck out of the two-parted coat back was the only sign of his excitement. "Giddamir, I'm waiting here for ten minutes now. I thought we had an agreement that you won't lead our guests through every hidden corner of the palace before bringing them here. If there is any danger for our beloved Drunlord, I'm here on my post before you have even left the gate."

The reception officer writhed. "Archmage Dhaurakil, I thought..."

"That is the core of the problem, you thought. Your thinking, unfortunately, is seldomly rewarded by success. Now go, receive some other guests."

The Badger whirled around and scurried off. The Archmage turned to Khiray and regarded him intensely. Khiray stood to attention without thinking, as if he had to counter the examination with all of his willpower.

Dhaurakil seemed to like what he saw; he got a considerable erection. The Fox stepped back as if the magician was threatening him with a weapon. Dhaurakil didn't seem too concerned about his indiscretion. Maybe he was accustomed to the disobedience of certain body parts, maybe he just didn't mind what others thought. He radiated power - his shape even more than his title. Archmage. The master of all magicians at the court. The mightiest sorcerer in Drun'kaal, possibly in all of the Armygan as well. "You are no magician, I see. But you are carrying a magical weapon."

"I have to talk to Kooradah", Khiray murmured.

"You may speak to him as soon as I decide that you are no danger for the Drunlord."

"I'm not here to harm Kooradah." The thought seemed ridiculous to Khiray - but the Dekka'shin actually gave him that kind of power. He, the little Fox from the north, had become a danger for Kooradah.

"Other harmless-looking assassins have entered the palace before", Dhaurakil stated soberly. "Nonetheless, I believe you. If you were the lord's enemy, you could have attacked him from afar without coming here. Where did you get this weapon?"

Khiray held the Dekka'shin tighter. "Taphaliel gave it to me..."

"One of the Archangels, if I'm not mistaken." Dhaurakil looked over the rail of the bridge, down the tower. "That's uncommon. I presume your story has something to do with it."


"I would like you to give me the weapon. Then you may see our beloved Drunlord at once." The way he said 'beloved Drunlord' for the second time already made Khiray suspect something. But that was not his concern; the private life of Archmages and Drunlords currently did not interest him.

"No! Today, I gave this Dekka'shin out of my hands once already, and I lost my ship in the end!"

"The explosion at the harbor. I do understand. I suppose the outbreak of magical energies some days ago near Alvanere is somehow connected to all this. No common powers shake the magic sphere as much as I could feel."

Khiray looked up to him. "Yes, my story is connected with that, too. Do you understand now that it's important?"

Dhaurakil smoothed the fur of his tail. "The more mysterious things are, the more powerful the involved forces - the more suspicious I get. I fear I have to insist on keeping that Dekka'shin for you. You'll get it back when you leave again."

"Impossible." An Archmage with the power of that weapon? Maybe Dhaurakil wanted to take the place of the Drunlord by himself... no, probably not; the Archmage seemed well-disposed towards Kooradah (if that was the fitting word). But Khiray recognized that the Archangel's gift was a two-edged sword. Did Taphaliel know about the whereabouts of the weapon? Could he sense what purpose his magic was used for? Was he able to cancel the connection to his power center, effectively destroying the Dekka'shin?

The Wolf sighed. "I thought you were in a hurry." Khiray had told this only Giddamir, but the Archmage seemed to be informed about everything. "We can keep standing here, discussing the matter for a long time. Or you can attack me with your weapon. Are you sure you can defeat me?"

"I don't want to fight anyone." Khiray sensed that the conversation was taking an very unpleasant turn. "If you don't want to let me in, I'll leave." He turned around. Kooradah should disentangle the threads by himself.

"I fear I can't let you do that", Dhaurakil remarked casually. "You are carrying a powerful weapon, and I can't ignore it. I have to admit I am very curious about your story."

Khiray clenched his fists. "I can tell it to you, if you attach great value to it, and you may retell it for Kooradah."

The Archmage leaned against the oak door and stroked his erect member gently with his right hand, as if to remind Khiray who held the power here. "That's against the protocol. Kooradah would be very insulted if he was passed over in those important matters. And I would like to consult a truthfinder as well; that's a talent I don't have."

The Fox looked at him grimly. "We could try whose power is greater, Taphaliel's or yours."

"Taphaliel's, of course", the Archmage replied. "But I walk closer to the center of my power. You have to call yours from afar. I can kill you before the Archangel's powers fill your mind. That is not supposed to be a threat, just a... statement of facts."

They were wasting their time. Khiray shook his head. He hadn't asked for that gift. Dhaurakil might as well keep it for a while; Taphaliel probably knew about the dangers of his weapons. The Fox threw the Dekka'shin to the Wolf.

The Archmage stroked the silver surface. "It's locked on you. I can't reach its power! An astonishing spell."

Khiray sighed deeply. Kinnih wouldn't have been able to hurl Taphaliel's fury against possible attackers after all. That made the loss of the 'Silver Ansicc' doubly pointless.

The Wolf opened the door for him, and together they entered the room inside the central building. A single circular hall stretched before them, reaching all the ten meters up to the dome. In a height of some meters, a narrow balcony ran around the hall, and the center was raised in form of a pedestal. There were stairs leading downwards at three places along the wall.

There were no windows. Magic white light illuminated the hall, and additional sunlight shone through the dome, iridescent, broken into thousands of colors.

If this was the room where Kooradah worked, his duties looked very strange... rather like a festival, a drunken bacchanal, an orgy. Colorful, fluttering banners obscured the bare wall. Lots of silken pillows were lying on the floor. Tables full of plates with roasted meat and raw fruits stood around. At least fifty Furrys were present, in various states of drunkenness or ecstasy. Some slept in the pillows. Others were utilizing the pillows as well, but they didn't sleep but wallowed in carnal pleasure; couples of all races rolled moaning and rejoicing across the floor. A fat Wolf replenished his dish with food; a hardly well-behaved Deer poured wine into his muzzle.

A Rabbit argued with a Tomcat, they both weren't sober anymore, and when the argument became a fight, the Rabbit knocked his opponent out with a single blow, only to collapse on the pillows himself. A Vixen embraced a marble statue, trying in vain to arouse its interest. A Badger galloped past on all fours, an Otter girl on his back. The Furrys present were sparsely clothed, if at all; only a group of four Rats with enormous girth was hidden under vast amounts of silk, linen and leather, as if they tried to make up for the others all by themselves. The scent of many races and many different kinds of entertainment wafted through the air.

There were only a few shapes standing out from the orgiastic crowd. Guards - Wolves, Leopards, a Bear - stood on the balcony like statues. They were heavily armed and fully equipped.

When Dhaurakil and Khiray entered, numerous pairs of eyes focussed on them, some of which weren't quite able to see just two Furs arriving. Several female Furrys watched the Archmage's loins and licked their lips. The Vixen with the statue ceased her efforts and stumbled into Khiray's direction, but she tripped over her own paws and fell into the pillows.

A single table stood on the pedestal in the center, rising like an island out of an ocean of licentiousness. A big Leopard sat on a plain chair behind it and wrote something on a piece of paper. Only after he finished that task, he looked up. "Oh, Dhaurakil! I see you're bringing a new guest."

"I regret to interrupt you", the Archmage said, "but this seems to be an affair of some importance." Both voices rose above the noise in the room, although the Wolf and the Leopard seemed to speak in a low tone.

The Leopard rose. He was naked with the exception of a golden circlet on his forehead. He as well didn't need any special clothing to underline the importance of his person: Kooradah. He was even bigger than Khiray had thought at first, taller than Dhaurakil, tall like a Deer, but more massive and built in a compact shape. Kooradah was male, no doubt, of a dark and powerful maleness that sparkled in his eyes.

And he really worked amidst the orgy, unifluenced, unimpressed.

"Silence", he said, and the guards on the balcony shouted his command in repetition. The noise died down except an occasional sigh; the most Furrys in the hall stopped their present activity.

"So, what's the matter?" Kooradah came over to Khiray and crossed his arms.

The Fox involuntarily made himself smaller. "Drunlord, it's a case of treason, Demons and magic."

"One moment", the Archmage interrupted him. "I have called for a truthfinder already." Khiray hadn't noticed any of that; the magician had used the power of his mind - or he had given Giddamir a secret signal like a stage illusionist. Dhaurakil inspected some pillows and selected the cleanest to create a seat round for four persons. Khiray used the opportunity to introduce himself to Kooradah in well-selected, polite words.

A short time later, a female Cat entered, not very pretty and not very tall, but with sharp eyes. She was clothed in the magician's coat and wore a short gambeson with several insignia unknown to Khiray. "You have called?"

Dhaurakil nodded. He indicated to her that she should sit down; they all obeyed his gesture. "This Fox has to tell a story. I want you to follow your profession and tell me if he's speaking the truth." He turned to Khiray. "This is Vijapaai; she's the best truthfinder at the court. Just try to speak honestly, as not to irritate her; if you don't want to reveal something, freely tell us so. We will not force you to disclose something you don't want to lay open, we can't read your thoughts either. You came to us, do us the honor and begin."

Khiray started to tell his story, from the first mooring in Sookandil to the final fight against Galbren. There were, indeed, some points he left out: the details of his first meeting with Khezzarrik, his experience in Hell, his relationship with Saljin; nothing of that mattered for Kooradah. Other things he had to reveal although he felt uneasy about it, like Pallys' immortality. It took longer than he expected, and afterwards he felt as tired as if he had to live through it all again.

"That", Kooradah said with a raised eyebrow, "is a really amazing story."

"It does explain several things." Dhaurakil nodded. "The outburst of magic in Alvanere. An Archangel... I had never expected that one of them would visit the Armygan in my lifetime. A pity I wasn't present."

Vijapaai shook her head violently. "Archmage..."

"Is there a contradiction?" Dhaurakil looked up to the colored glass dome. "I think it was all very plausible."

"Very weird", the Drunlord added, "but I have heard stranger tales."

The Cat spread her arms. "But he lies!"

Khiray's eyes widened with surprise. "That's not true!" He went through the details in his mind once again to find the point where he had strayed from the facts so much that a truthfinder could accuse him of lying. He didn't find anything. He had told his story as close to his memory as possible.

"Where did he lie?" Dhaurakil's face darkened.

Vijapaai screwed her eyes up. "I'm not sure, but... I've got the impression he's lying all the time. With every single word. I know, it's not what you expect, but... I can trust my powers and my education, and nothing, really nothing in this Fox's story is true!"

Khiray jumped up. "That's impossible! I have been there!"

"He's still lying", the Cat stated.

"The Demons..."

"He's lying even now. There are no Demons, I believe."

The Archmage looked at the Dekka'shin. "I don't understand. Khiray, you know a truthfinder is infallible. Vijapaai can tell truth and lie apart as we can distinguish red and white. Why do you try to deceive us? Does this weapon have the power of clouding a truthfinder's mind? Is that the reason why you didn't want to give it to me?"

"No!" Khiray called out.

"Yes!" Vijapaai returned. "He's still lying! It's the weapon!"

Saddened, the Archmage lowered his head. "Khiray, that was a really stupid attempt. I don't understand... Where did you get that Dekka'shin, and what do you really have in mind? Why did you tell that story?"

The Fox was speechless. Why...? He knew truthfinders were infallible. He had told the truth. There were only two explanations: Vijapaai lied, or she had lost her powers. "I can prove my story!"


"My ship lies on the bottom of the river!"


"I fought against Galbren... there are witnesses, a Rat, the harbor master of that quay..."


"Galbren is a traitor, he..."

"Lie!" Vijapaai jumped up. "Why do you still try to deceive me? Your plan has failed! Tell us the truth, and nothing but the truth!"

Kooradah raised his hand. "Please moderate your words. I have to admit that this affair leaves even me confused. But I do not see why Khiray should spread lies like that. And I am an authority on the Furry soul, believe me... this Fox is even more dismayed than we are. If not for Vijapaais words, I would say he's telling the truth."

A voice rose at the bridge door. "I think I can shed some light on that mystery."

Slowly, Khiray raised his head. Accompanied by Giddamir, Galbren stood at the entrance, the Wolfish face showing a broad grin.

End of Chapter Twenty-six, go to Chapter 27, back to Chapter 25.