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It took less than two hours for the apprentice to teach Isaak his trade. When Rudolfo returned to his tent, the metal man sat at the table, sifting through the pouch of tools and scrolls, and the man was gone.

Do you know enough? Rudolfo asked. Isaak looked up. Yes, Lord.

Do you want to kill him yourself?

Isaaks eyelids fluttered, his metal ears tilted and bent. He shook his head. No, Lord. Rudolfo nodded and shot Gregoric a look. Gregoric returned the nod grimly and left in silence.

The bird had returned in less than an hour. His question had gone unanswered. Sethberts reply had been terse: Return to me the man you took. Surrender the servitor that destroyed Windwir.

Hed had an hour to ponder the why. Ambition? Greed? Fear? The Androfrancines could have ruled the world with their magicks and mechanicals, yet they hid in their city, sent out their archeologists and

scholars to dig and to learn, to understand the present through the past and to protect that past for the future. In the end, he found it didnt matter so much why the City States and their mad Overseer had

ended that work. What mattered was that it never happen again. Are you okay, Isaak?

I grieve, Lord. And I rage. Aye. Me, too.

A scout cleared his voice outside. Lord Rudolfo? He looked up. Yes?

A woman met the forward scouts west of Sethberts camp, Lord. She came magicked and asking for your protection under the Providence of Kin-Clave.

He smiled but there was no satisfaction in it. Maybe later, when all of this unpleasantness had passed. Very well. Prepare her for travel.


She is to be escorted to the seventh manor. You leave within the hour. The metal man goes with her. Select and magick a half-squad to assist you.

Yes, Lord.

And fetch me my raven. Rudolfo fell back into the cushions, exhaustion washing over him.

Lord Rudolfo? The metal man struggled to his feet, his damaged leg sparking. Am I leaving you?

Yes, Isaak, for a bit. He rubbed his eyes. I wish for you to start that work we spoke of. When I am finished here, I will bring you help.

Is there anything I can do here, Lord?

He doesnt wish to go, Rudolfo realized. But he was too tired to find words of explanation. And the

metal man brought something out in him-something like compassion. He couldnt bear to tell him that he was simply too dangerous a weapon to have on the battlefield. Rudolfo rubbed his eyes again and yawned. Pack your tools, Isaak. Youre leaving soon.

The metal man packed, then swung the heavy pouch over his shoulder. Rudolfo climbed to his feet.

The woman you will be traveling with is Jin Li Tam of House Li Tam. I would have you bear a message to her.

Isaak said nothing, waiting.

Tell her she chose well and that I will come to her when I am finished here. Yes, Lord.

Rudolfo followed Isaak out of the tent. His raven awaited, its feathers g [itsn="lossy and dark as a wooded midnight. He took it from the scouts steady hands.

When you reach the seventh manor, he told his scout, tell my steward there that Isaak-the metal man-bears my grace.

The scout nodded once and left. Isaak looked at Rudolfo. His mouth opened and closed; no words came out.

Rudolfo held the raven close, stroking its back with his finger. I will see you soon, Isaak. Start your work. Ill send the others when Ive freed them. Youve a library to rebuild.

Thank you, the metal man finally said.

Rudolfo nodded. The scout and the metal man left. Gregoric returned, wiping the apprentices blood from his hands.

Sethbert wants his man back, Rudolfo said. Ive already seen to it, Lord.

Somewhere on the edge of camp, Rudolfo thought, a stolen pony ambled its way home bearing a cloth-wrapped burden. Very well. Magick the rest of your Gypsy Scouts.

Ive seen to that as well, Lord.

He looked at Gregoric and felt a pride that burned brighter than his grief or his rage. Youre a good man.

Rudolfo pulled a thread from the sleeve of his rainbow robe. This time, no other message. This time, no question. He tied the scarlet thread of war to the foot of his darkest angel. When he finished, he whispered no words and he did not fling his messenger at the sky. It leaped from his hands on its own and sped away like a black arrow. He watched it fly until he realized Gregoric had spoken.

Gregoric? he asked.

You should rest, Lord, the chief of his Gypsy Scouts said again. We can handle this first battle without you.

Yes, I should, Rudolfo said. But he knew there would be time enough for rest-perhaps even a lifetime of rest-after he won the war.

Petronus | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | c