Heads down and hoods up, they rolled through the busy streets of Gisela with trepidation. Every sidestepped citizen could be the Cherub and every window with a vantage could harbour a sniper. Nevertheless, they simply had to make it to their destination; getting a message to Ceidon Lore was of critical importance. Struggling through the slicker Daichi had loaned him for cover, Gum engaged Phyr in a hushed conversation. "The gathering clouds. Do you think he has used it?" The shaman's question went unanswered. Phyr pushed on with what was most pertinent: the most inconspicuous route to the meeting place at the Palace Gardens. "This way, we'll be able to blend into the crowd."
Ivy-wrapped pillars marked out a gravel pathway along which the duo's footsteps crunched. Colours, spilled along winding flowerbeds, giving a sweet scent to the air; the dandy sensation went some way to settling Gum's anxious heart. While the shaman wrestled with the immediate unknown, he watched Sa'resh forge ahead with a purpose. "Edim, I did not know him long," said Gum, pulling down the awkward hood of his borrowed outfit. "But, your faith in him is heartening to me." Ceidon's expedition member was expecting the silver-haired guardsman; they had to hope that their presence would be acceptable instead.
"This is it," the one-armed elf announced with a sigh of relief. The location's significance came from a lurching willow; the tree wept into the lapping bank of a lily padded pond. "Edim's contact is not here," noted Gum, his baritone lowering further with concern. Phyr shook his head, "Gum, these things take time. Be patient."
Beneath the willow's swaying reach was a marble slab, not polished but cut by a mason. Moving to inspect it, Gum noticed a bronze plaque bolted to the flat face of the quarried rock. "Read this," instructed Gum. They read together, learning the grim circumstances under which the tree was planted. A long since dead Baroness of Gisela placed the tree on the water's edge, its forlorn branches intended to reflect her sorrow at the death of her young son. "This tree must be over a hundred years old," mused Phyr.
"Well, well, well," hacked a grizzly voice, interrupting the solemn moment. "Who the fuck are you two? Where's Edim?"
Gum's narrow eyes squinted as he watched the woman approach. Her hoop earrings undulated with her swaggering saunter. She ran her hand over her head, drawing attention to the clean shave her scalp had recently received.
Before the sailor came within earshot, Phyr whispered to to Gum, "She's not what I expected an associate of Ceidon Lore to look like."
"You talking shit?!" she hollered. "Look, I don't care. What I care about is my friend Edim. So let me repeat the fucking question: where is he?"
"We lost him," admitted Phyr, struggling to swallow. "Senator Fordstein is to blame for his death."
"I am certain his assassins continue to stalk us," warned Gum. "We should acquaint ourselves quickly."
"Well, shit..." The wind whipped through the supple stems of the willow. "Okay." Ceidon's representative was considering the news. "I liked Edim, solid fucking fella." She tugged at her gold-buckled belt. "Anyway," she said moving the conversation along, "I'm Saieda."
Phyr said, "It's a pleasure to meet-"
"Look, one-arm, just tell me your name."
"Phyr Sa'resh, former Captain of the Underwood Watch."
"And you?" The woman moved nose-to-nose with Gum and jabbed him in the gut with her pointing finger. "You're one of them Xenga savages!"
Gum's indifferent frown turned to a snarl. "Xangu, not Xenga. My name is Gum, a shaman of the free Xangu people."
"Right. Anyway, so the artifact?" Saieda, taking note of Gum's warning, wasted no time. "That's what I'm here for after all. Hand it over and I'll make sure it gets to Mr. Lore, so I will."
The elf answered quickly and ruefully, "I lost possession of the Thunderbox when we lost Edim. Fordstein's assassin surely returned the object to his master."
"Well, this is all a bit fucking pointless then, isn't it?" said Saieda with an outward puff of frustration. "Thanks for the bad news, I suppose. I'll pass it on to our mutual friend." Without waiting for either Gum or Phyr to reply, the sailor turned and began walking away.
"Wait, just hold on a minute now," begged Phyr.
"We are going to kill Fordstein." Gum's promise came like a knife. "We are going to take back the Thunderbox."
Saieda stopped and shook her head nervously.
Gum insisted, speaking again, "The Thunderbox will not be used to destroy the lives of the innocent."
Saieda sighed. "Urgh, I really didn't want to tell this fucking story." After turning around, she walked back to face the two men with renewed severity. "We went out there, we sailed south. We pointed our ship to where the armada came from."
Phyr nodded, expressing satisfaction.
"And we found it. We found their homeland. But we couldn't go ashore. The whole place was surrounded, wreathed, in lightning storms. Bolts of lightning that just... they never stopped. There was no way to make land." Saieda paused to rub at her bald head for the second time.
"Please, continue," implored Gum. "Remember, we are not safe here."
"Well, this is where it gets fucking weird. I can't believe I'm saying this, but. Well. Ceidon, he collapsed looking at the storm. Half hour later the daft coot wakes up talking about a vision! He said that Am'aleh came to him in a dream, saying she appeared to him as a woman woven from water. This is Ceidon Lore mind, remember that. So he says about this dream that Am'aleh warned him that the cat-folk want all of Corone for themselves. Their homeland is ruined by the storms, they want Corone as a new home."
"I understand now," Phyr was sharper than Gum. He quickly realised why Saieda was opening up, why she was bothering to tell a tale she so clearly did not want to tell.
"Yes, you fucking see. They're using Fordstein's stupid plot to get their forces ashore. Akashima is already in ruins. Radasanth comes next, and then the rest. It's a double double cross! You get it? So, you can't assassinate Fordstein. Ceidon needs to get to the senator first and organise a defence."
"The enemy of my enemy and all that," mumbled Phyr dejectedly.