Thirteenth Chapter, First Part: Resolution

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"So," Wick said, settling down next to Iris while his brothers and Dignity talked in the distance, "what happened between you and Akavōn? That guardian of pain and suffering and whatnot?"

"Not much," Iris said, blushing, as she continued to weave multicolored vines into a pumpkin-shaped basket. Wick waited for her to keep speaking, and after finishing the base of the basket and moving on to the lid, Iris added,"I may, uhh, have agreed to be a general in the Steppe Guardian Army and to teach all of the Steppe the ways a Candlemaiden may walk in Death."

Wick stared at her, uncharacteristically at a loss for words, and after a few seconds Iris could feel the eyes of Dignity, Allocrux, and Timothy on her as well.

"Right," Wick said, standing up and edging away with a smirk on his face. "Well, you have fun with that."

With an over-loud sigh, Iris flung herself on the ground and stared at the orange sky. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Akavos had explained the plight of the people of the Steppe, the way they had to constantly travel lest too many concentrated deaths tore through the world's and next-world's fabric. The dragon spirit promised Iris that she would find herself one day on the Steppe, but all Iris knew from her time in the Kaerent school is that its plains and plateaus lay more than half a world away. It all sounded too much like a prophecy or another quest, but it was nice, Iris had to admit, to have a purpose. Plus, as a general for Akavos she was allowed to flit between death and life as often as she liked, permitted she found a way to do so.

First, though, she had to save Harkenhilt. Looking down at the basket in her hands, Iris frowned. It was nearly complete, which meant soon leaving this stone courtyard and facing off against Misery. It still felt wrong, almost, to save the realm by dooming another of its rulers, but she had seen the suffering wrought by Misery and knew it must be stopped. The orchard of bones reminded her too much of her own home, of the slow desolation and desiccation of Erinlin, the way its culture was being dried up and drained by the Kaerent thieves, the way people were forfeiting their heritage for the odd Kaerent coins and becoming mere skeletons of themselves. It made her sad and it made her sick and wondered what there was she could do about it.


"Yes, Pumpkin Prince?"

Dignity sighed, but there was mirth in his eyes. "My name is Dignity. And I wanted to see if you'd finished the wax figures."

"Oh! Yes. Here!" Iris was quite proud of her work. She had shaped some of the excess candle wax into figurines resembling Dignity and Misery. For Dignity she had wrapped some strands of his bright orange hair around his neck like a scarf, and for Misery, lacking any direct corporeal link, she had stowed away some water from Misery's fountain in a cavity in the figurine's wide hips.

"Ah," said Dignity. "I see."

There was silence for a moment.

"Are you going to keep working on them, or..."

"I don't see why," Iris replied. "They seem pretty perfect to me."

"Ah. Yes. Right." Dignity looked everywhere but her eyes, before finally mumbling, "Well, I suppose it's the symbolic resemblance that counts."

Timothy came to peer over Iris's shoulder at the two figures, and in the distance Wick and Allocrux cackled.

"So we're almost ready?" the green-eyed boy asked in a soft voice.

"Almost." Iris frowned at the basket in her hands, pulling the last few vines into place. "Have the pits and snares been prepared?"

"They have."

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