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Section 1

I was told the only warlock who'd meet me Outside of a sand circle was on sabbatical in the deep dark recesses of Koinos. Not the eastern Pekoe region. but the overgrown snake-infested belly. which even in this intrepid age remains uncharted.

I had six trim Bandini to carry the bags, a hardy pack beast (who in the end we were forced to return to the skyship as he found the going too uneven). and at the front the small consortium who'd plan our progress beyond the bald promontory upon which we'd landed.

I'd been told to meet the warlock of the Metal at the Shrine of Owls. but that we'd have to navigate there on foot. A tramp beneath the trees. where vegetation scored our arms like black glass. As we set off, the Bandini formed a shield around us, beating the undergrowth to out the vermin snake the locals call "Twy-ni-Banda". These serpents are so numerous. and their bite so toxic, that there was every chance we wouldn't make it.

Sure enough, on the very first day, a Bandini was bitten between the toes. Enduring his screams, we comforted him through to the end knowing there was nothing to be done. when he was dead. we lit a pyre. Even the Twy-ni-Banda seemed to keep a respectful distance from the fire, until a squall came and washed it out and we were forced to hurry on.


Section 2

After three days of fitful sleep in the boughs of the trees (it is lucky the snakes rarely climb) and swimming under improbable waterfalls, we found the shrine. A glittering line of seventy-one lshgiruans were waiting expectantly for us on the steps. We embraced them firmly, both because it seemed the honourable thing to do, and also because we were so utterly relieved.

Metal wore the suitably inappropriate; an encumbrance of currency threaded around the neck, a heap of skin-piercing jewellery in his ears and an Empress-green and gold skirt hat he trailed in the dirt. Metal argued that by corollary of its length and thick lining, the skirt acted as defence against the Twy-ni-Banda, of whom all present parties were understandably terrified.

The Shrine of Owls, I am told, is more than five-thousand-years-old. By the two moons, that is long before Sabor came into being. Metal believes, to a fault, that the lineage of the Empress is at least as ancient.
Still, a study of the shrine kindled a connection for him. He said, "it is no coincidence we lshgiruans also hold owls, hawks and peregrines in similarly high regard."

I myself had the eerie feeling that I knew the place, yet had never been there. It seems to confirm the Gall view that Koinos was home to us all once.


Section 3

Thankfully the Shrine of Owls is a haven from the ungodly snakes. There is a moat around it, and the snakes are not keen swimmers. Whoever built it must have known.

The meeting seemed a mutually profitable exchange, for the Warlock of Metal said he was much enthused by Saborian life, and that he longed the Unity might one day become so uniform and fair. I provided an explanation of how that could be achieved, but he quickly snubbed me, remarking that our system was "quite extreme".

"I fear it is just not the way things are. You see, the Empress has special and ancient bonds. The Book of Soil says her reign must continue, or our race will uncoil, and the separate strands of the rope wither and grow weak," he said.
He did explain however, that following his residency here in the forest, he was hopeful that a generous sum might scatter from the Empress Tarramaggi's pockets and cascade down upon her extended family like a water fountain.

He had a merchant with him, Nabob Tyrese. A man whose only fondness was for eating. He refused to walk anywhere, and it was infuriating to discover the both of them had actually been winched down into the forest from a skyship, rather than (as I had been led to believe) making the arduous trek, which had cost my own caravan so dear.

A fine banquet was prepared for us, a long table in the lshgiru style filling the grand hall at the top of the steps.
"Tyrese is here to see if this land has prospects," said Metal.
"I see," I said, curiously, since I had a similar errand to run on behalf of the Sabor Assembly.
"There‘s nothing here," said the Nabob dismally, as he chewed a cube o cold butter, "only stinking snakes."
"We hope that our skyship may return shortly, for we have had our fill of the wild," said Metal.
Not enough women," smirked the blotchy-faced Tyrese.


Section 4

"We must elevate Ten-Rui to the status of the Saborian cities", said Metal over dessert.

I wasn't so sure it could be done.

"There is no such thing as a "citizen" of the Kioki Unity," he laughed, "All are welcome in Ten-Rui, but they must make their own way. Success is only equivalent to effort!"

I looked at Metal and wondered if he or his friends had ever had to work to get by. But there was no arguing with them.

Later, Metal showed me a strange thin with flower stamens. He put them in water, and they dyed it yellow. He dipped his finger in and stirred, then he daubed it upon my cheeks, and said I was now "in the Karem style". I was promptly asked for a sizeable donation to their cause, which I felt I ought not refuse. I found myself signing off a shipment of myrrh against my book of entitlement.

lncredulous I said, "Metal, these magikal arts of yours are little more than a sham."
But he laughed again. As long as he was paid, he could never take offence.


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