The neighboring cell holds a Wolf.
She ignores him at first. He's too greedy for her acknowledgement. Sometimes, he reminds her of the needy Dregs that followed her old Kell like carrion birds, squawking for attention and squabbling over his kills.
What the Eliksni have lost, more than anything else, is dignity.
Eventually, the Wolf learns to intrigue her. He calls himself Praksis, and he has ideas. But he's young. He thinks every idea he conceives of is the first and best of its kind. She suspects he's never had to report directly to a Kell.
He likes to talk about machines—building them and bending them to his will. He has a mad idea about recapturing the Great Machine, binding it in Arc wire, and making it give them its power. He's been listening to the stories about Ghaul.
She lets him talk, and she asks him questions. Every question is a whetstone. Every conversation is a test, and it will only take one failure to lose her interest.
"The Great Machine made the Eliksni great," she says. "Until it left us. When it did, we were weaker than when it arrived. Why do you seek its touch again?"
"To return us to that strength," he says. His voice is muffled through the wall between them, but the arrogance comes through clear.
"How can you build strength on a foundation of weakness?" she asks. Each word is a needle. Each word should sting him with revelation.
He remains silent.
"Did the Great Machine make the Eliksni strong, or did it draw out the strength within us?" she asks.
She tilts her head back, looking at the dark ceiling of her cell. "Reliance is the greatest weakness. Remember that. You are playing with a child's stacking spheres."
He's silent so long that she begins to wonder if he was worth her time. Then, he says, "I will create new spheres."
She closes her eyes and smiles.
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