To say Luned felt like new the next morning would have been a vast overstatement, but she did feel better, and that was enough. If anything, the comforts she found her made her feel human again, her humanity now just something else she had lost in the Tular sands some weeks ago.

Mithread’s clothing was beautifully made, though she was forced to make do with the best-fitting garments in her rush to meet Pyralis. Still, tailored linen felt blissful against her skin after journeying in what essentially had been rags, and she cobbled together an ensemble that helped her recognize herself in the mirror for the first time in ages. Either Mithread or Ms. Sethrin had also thought to place a new pair of boots next to the chest, crafted with gorgeous burgundy leather. Luned recognized the mark on the sole –– a gothic letter G –– as Gravebeard’s seal. She pushed thoughts of Swan’raan’s lackey from her head and put them on, hoping they weren’t a sample from his orphan-sourced line.

And then she set out. To her relief, Luned finally felt ready. Ready to take on the burden of helping Pyralis, ready to face her fear of the sewers, and ready to find Flint and set things right.

Pyralis was already waiting for her when she arrived. The young elf had changed her own clothing into something still worn, but vaguely cleaner, and it appeared she’d given her face a good scrub. “I always figured you were secretly a proper lady,” she greeted Luned. “But I still barely recognize you. Have you recovered?”

“Yes, thanks. Here, for you and the kids.” The scribe offered a parcel containing some bread and fruit that she’d nicked from the inn’s breakfast spread.

The elf smiled and accepted it. “Thanks. But first, let’s go for a walk.”

The sun finally peered over the rooftops, its warm rays expelling the rest of the early morning chill. Ettermire was a gray city of stone and smog, and it appeared much as Luned remembered. Pyralis led her away from the tunnel into a busier part of town, weaving through the streets until they found a bench near the markets. The shouts of sellers rang above the white noise of the traffic, and as they sat, the elf leaned in.

“I wanted to talk somewhere Helethra couldn’t follow or hear. You see… I need your advice.” Luned nodded, watching the crowds pass by, and Pyralis continued. “I’m torn. I… you know that job I mentioned, that would earn me some Swaysong? It’s for this person, she has a tannery, but… she’s bad news. She asked me to betray Helethra. She thinks she’s competition, but I can’t imagine why.”

Luned looked Pyralis in the eye, freckled brow pinched. “You mean Swan’raan, don’t you?”

Pyralis gulped as she nodded, fully understanding the predicament by gut instinct, even if she was unfamiliar with the politics of such an infamous person. “I should be clear that Helethra and I aren’t exactly friends. She’s proud of her mutations, not that she shouldn’t be, she’s healthy and capable and can take care of herself. But not all of us are that lucky. I told her I was sick of seeing other kids die, that we deserve a way to opt out if we need it. She was so angry, Luned.”

A passer-by bumped into them as he carried some sacks of grain, and Luned lowered her voice further. “A deal with Swan’raan is never worth making. Please trust me on that.”

“I do,” the elf forced a half-smile. “In my heart, I’ve known all along. It’s just so hard to pass up any chance. Lufe has started fading, and I don’t think I can take losing another one.” Luned reached up to wrap an arm over Pyralis’ shoulder, who accepted the embrace. The elf stared into her eyes, lilac meeting blue with new determination. “I’m tired of being naive. You know more than you’re letting on, and I need you to tell me. I need to understand what I’m dealing with, here.”

Luned hesitated, sighed, and spilled. She told Pyralis, at length, everything: how she was going to purchase Swaysong from Swan’raan, but a thief got it first and drew Luned and one of Swan’raan’s thugs, Flint, into the sewers; how they met the terrible creatures living there, barely surviving; how that brought them to Helethra and her scientist mother, Ezura. “All Ezura wanted was a cure, but it pushed her daughter away until Hel started hiding in the sewers. We didn’t realize until it was far too late that Ezura had stolen the Swaysong and given it to Helethra. She almost died.” Ultimately, Swan’raan captured Ezura, but it was Flint who exacted revenge by forcing her to take some Swaysong, herself. Luned and Flint eventually escaped together and hoped they’d never look back.

The elf listened in fascinated, horrified silence, until Luned finally trailed off. “I’m so glad we met,” Pyralis took the scribe by the hands, tears in her eyes. “I had no idea what Helethra’s been through, and I can’t believe I ever even considered betraying her to someone like that. Maybe I should try talking with her again, now that I understand… well, you know.”

Luned offered a wistful little smile. “I’ve received a tip that Flint is here in Ettermire, as we speak. I need to go now, I need to find him, but when I have, I’ll come to you and we’ll devise a real plan. At the very least, we can find Lufe a doctor. Does this sound all right to you?”

Pyralis wiped her eyes on the grimy sleeve of her tunic. “Yes, yes it does.”