Chapter 2

Lord Timur wades forward into the shallow pool that rings the islet, listening attentively to the rhythmic lapping of the water.

There is a gentle artifice at work here. Each step he takes, however clumsy, stirs a repeating, too-perfect echo of the same small noise. A recording, or an isolated memory. A memetic transmission, cued to overwrite every other sound in the vicinity.

He wonders if the last poor villager to come this way wished for peace and quiet.

The sound starts again. Timur turns.

The Ahamkara lunges at him from the side, its glistening bulk emerging from a span of water too shallow to have ever contained it. Through a shower of black-green liquid, Timur sees its wedge-shaped maw split open like a flower.

Into all that displaced pondwater, Timur summons Void. A row of cavitation bubbles bursts along the underside of the Ahamkara in a cascading shockwave of pale violet fire. It unseams the Ahamkara at the joints and Timur's lungs nearly cave in.

What's left of the Ahamkara crawls to the edge of the islet, panting raggedly. Timur bends to slap once, experimentally, at the surface of the lake. He hears the alarm call of a bird, from deeper in the trees. Closer by, he hears Lord Colovance call his name.

Timur wades closer to the Ahamkara.

"Don't you want to know if you're right?" The dragon snickers, even as it dies. "Don't you want to ask me about Clovis Bray? Don't you want to know?"

He resents the question.

"I know I'm right," Timur says. But he does want to know: he wants to ask, and badly. He wants, during the entire time he waits for the creature to expire. By the end, he has to bite down on his tongue.

He is seated on the bank, tipping sludge out of his boots, when Lord Colovance catches up with him.

"I called out to you," Lord Colovance says. His student sounds equal parts apologetic and sullen. Perhaps he wanted to fell the beast himself.

"I know," Lord Timur replies. "I had it handled." He lets fondness warm his tone. He'll let Colovance tell the village that their great beast has been slain and bask in the gratitude that follows. Timur's mind is already elsewhere. There is so much more important work to return to. A future to construct, from nothing. Let Nirwen and her ilk obsess over their bestiaries.

"Did you… talk to it?" Lord Colovance asks.

It mentioned Clovis Bray, Timur doesn't say. The taste of copper fills his mouth.

"No."

They walk back in silence.