Chapter no 77: Bluffs

The Name of the Wind

WOKE WITHOUT REMEMBERING when I had fallen asleep. Denna was shaking me gently. “Don’t move too quickly,” she said. “It’s a long way down.”

I slowly uncurled, nearly every muscle in my body complaining at how it had been treated yesterday. My thighs and calves were tight, hard knots of pain.

Only then did I realize I was wearing my cloak again. “Did I wake you up?” I asked Denna. “I don’t remember….”

“In a way you did,” she said. “You nodded off and tipped right onto me. You didn’t even flicker a lid when I cussed you out….” Denna trailed off as she watched me slowly come to my feet. “Good lord, you look like someone’s arthritic grandfather.”

“You know how it is,” I said. “You’re always stiffest when you wake up.”

She smirked. “We womenfolk don’t have that problem, as a rule.” Her expression grew serious as she watched me. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“I rode about sixty miles yesterday, before I met up with you,” I said. “I’m not really used to that. And when I jumped last night I hit the rock pretty hard.”

“Are you hurt?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Especially in my everywhere.”

“Oh,” she gasped, her hands going to her mouth. “Your beautiful hands!”

I looked down and saw what she meant. I must have hurt them rather badly in my wild attempt to climb the greystone last night. My musician’s calluses had saved my fingertips for the most part, but my knuckles were scraped badly and crusted with blood. Other parts of me hurt so much that I hadn’t even noticed.

My stomach clenched at the sight of them, but when I opened and closed my hands I could tell they were just painfully skinned, not seriously injured. As a musician, I always worried that something might happen to my hands, and my work as an artificer had doubled that anxiety. “It looks worse than it is,” I said. “How long has the draccus been gone?” I asked.

“At least a couple hours. It wandered away a little after the sun came up.”

I looked down from my high vantage on the greystone arch. Last evening the hilltop had been a uniform expanse of green grass. This morning it looked like a battlefield. The grass was crushed in places, burned to stubble in others. There were deep furrows dug in the earth where the lizard had rolled or dragged its heavy body across the turf.

Getting down from the greystone was harder than getting up had been. The top of the arch was about twelve feet off the ground, higher than was convenient for jumping. Normally I wouldn’t have worried about it, but in my stiff, bruised condition I worried I’d land awkwardly and turn my ankle.

Eventually we managed it by using the strap of my travelsack as a makeshift rope. While Denna braced herself and held one end, I lowered myself down. The sack ripped wide open, of course, scattering my belongings, but I made it to the ground with nothing more serious than a grass stain.

Then Denna hung from the lip of the rock and I grabbed her legs, letting her slide down slowly. Despite the fact that I was bruised all down my front side, the experience did a lot to improve my mood.

I gathered up my things and sat down with needle and thread to sew my travelsack back together. After a moment Denna returned from her brief trip into the trees, pausing briefly to pick up the blanket we’d left below. It had several large claw rents from when the draccus had walked over it.

“Have you ever seen one of these before?” I asked, holding out my hand. She raised an eyebrow at me. “How many times have I heard that one?”

Grinning, I handed her the lump of black iron I’d got from the tinker. She looked it over curiously. “Is this a loden-stone?”

“I’m surprised you recognize it.”

“I knew a fellow who used one as a paperweight.” She sighed disparagingly. “He made a special point of how, despite the fact that it was so valuable and exceedingly rare, he used it as a paperweight.” She sniffed. “He was a prat. Do you have any iron?”

“Fish around in there.” I pointed to my jumbled possessions. “There’s bound to be something.”

Denna sat on one of the low greystones and played with the loden-stone and a piece of broken iron buckle. I slowly sewed up my travelsack, then reattached the strap, stitching it several times so it wouldn’t come loose.

Denna was thoroughly engrossed by the loden-stone. “How does it work?” she asked, pulling the buckle away and letting it snap back. “Where does the pulling come from?”

“It’s a type of galvanic force,” I said, then hesitated. “Which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve got no idea at all.”

“I wonder if it only likes iron because it’s made of iron,” she mused, touching her silver ring to it with no effect. “If someone found a loden-stone

made of brass would it like other brass?”

“Maybe it would like copper and zinc,” I said. “That’s what brass is made of.” I turned the bag rightside out and began packing up my things. Denna handed me back the loden-stone and wandered off toward the destroyed remains of the fire pit.

“It ate all the wood before it left,” she said.

I went over to look too. The area around the firepit was a churned-up mess. It looked like an entire legion of cavalry had ridden across it. I prodded a great piece of overturned sod turf with the toe of my boot, then bent to pick something up. “Look at this.”

Denna came closer and I held something up for her to see. It was one of the draccus’ scales, smooth and black, roughly as big as my palm, and shaped like a teardrop. It was a quarter inch thick in the middle, tapering to the edges.

I held it out to Denna. “For you, m’lady. A memento.”

She hefted it in her hand. “It’s heavy,” she said. “I’ll go find one for you….” She skipped back to prod through the remains of the firepit. “I think it ate some of the rocks along with the wood. I know I gathered more than this to line the fire last night.”

“Lizards eat rocks all the time,” I said. “It’s how they digest their food. The rocks grind up the food in their guts.” Denna eyed me skeptically. “It’s true. Chickens do it, too.”

She shook her head, looked away as she prodded in the churned-up earth. “You know, at first I was kind of hoping you would turn this encounter into a song. But the more you talk about this thing, I’m not so sure. Cows and chickens. Where’s your flair for the dramatic?”

“It does well enough without exaggeration,” I said. “That scale is mostly iron, unless I miss my guess. How can I make that more dramatic than it already is?”

She held up the scale, looking at it closely. “You’re kidding.”

I grinned at her. “The rocks around here are full of iron,” I said. “The draccus eats the rocks and slowly they get ground down in its gizzard. The metal slowly filters into the bones and scales.” I took the scale and walked over to one of the greystones. “Year after year it sheds its skin, then eats it, keeping the iron in its system. After two hundred years…” I tapped the scale against the stone. It made a sharp ringing sound somewhere between a bell and a piece of glazed ceramic.

I handed it back to her. “Back before modern mining people probably hunted them for their iron. Even nowadays I’m guessing an alchemist would pay a pretty penny for the scales or bones. Organic iron is a real rarity. They could probably do all sorts of things with it.”

Denna looked down at the scale in her hand. “You win. You can write the song.” Her eyes lit with an idea. “Let me see the loden-stone.”

I dug it out of my bag and handed it to her. She brought the scale close to it and they snapped sharply together, making the same odd, ceramic ring again. She grinned and walked back over to the firepit and started pushing the loden-stone through the debris, hunting for more scales.

I looked out toward the northern bluffs. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” I said, pointing off to a faint smudge of smoke rising from the trees. “But something’s smoldering down there. The marker stakes I planted are gone, but I think that’s the direction we saw the blue fire last night.”

Denna moved the loden-stone back and forth over the ruins of the fire pit. “The draccus couldn’t have been responsible for what happened at the Mauthen farm.” She gestured at the churned up earth and sod. “There wasn’t any of this sort of wreckage there.”

“I’m not thinking about the farm,” I said. “I’m thinking someone’s patron might have been roughing it last night with a cheery little campfire….”

Denna’s face fell. “And the draccus saw it.”

“I wouldn’t worry,” I said quickly. “If he’s as clever as you say, he’s probably safe as houses.”

“Show me a house that’s safe from that thing,” she said grimly, handing me back my loden-stone. “Let’s go have a look.”

It was only a few miles to where the faint line of smoke rose from the forest, but we made bad time. We were sore and tired, and neither of us was hopeful about what we would find when we reached our destination.

While we walked we shared my last apple and half of my remaining loaf of flatbread. I cut strips of birch bark and Denna and I both picked at them and chewed. After an hour or so, the muscles in my legs relaxed to the point where walking was no longer painful.

As we got closer our progress slowed. Rolling hills were replaced with sharp bluffs and scree-covered slopes. We had to climb or go the long way around, sometimes doubling back before we found a way through.

And there were distractions. We stumbled onto a patch of ripe ashberry that slowed us down for almost a full hour. Not long after that we found a stream and stopped to drink and rest and wash. Again my hope for a storybook dalliance was thwarted by the fact that the stream was only about six inches deep. Not ideal for proper bathing.

It was early afternoon before we finally came to the source of the smoke, and what we found was not at all what we expected.

It was a secluded valley tucked into the bluffs. I say valley, but in truth it was more like a gigantic step among the foothills. On one side was a high cliff

wall of dark rock, and on the other was a sheer drop-off. Denna and I came at it from two different, unapproachable angles before we finally found a way in. Luckily the day was windless, and the smoke rose straight as an arrow into the clear blue sky. If not for that to guide us, we probably never would have found the place.

Once it had probably been a pleasant little piece of forest, but now it looked like it had been struck by a tornado. Trees were broken, uprooted, charred, and smashed. Huge furrows of exposed earth and rock were dug everywhere, as if some giant farmer had gone raving mad while plowing his field.

Two days ago I wouldn’t have been able to guess what would cause such destruction. But after what I had seen last night….

“I thought you said they were harmless?” Denna said, turning to me. “It went on a rampage here.”

Denna and I began to pick our way through the wreckage. The white smoke rose from the deep hole left by a large maple tree that had been tipped over. The fire was nothing more than a few coals smouldering in the bottom of the hole where the roots had been.

I idly kicked a few more clods of dirt into the hole with the toe of my boot. “Well, the good news is that your patron isn’t here. The bad news is…” I broke off, drawing a deeper breath. “Do you smell that?”

Denna took a deep breath and nodded, wrinkling her nose.

I climbed up onto the side of the fallen maple and looked around. The wind shifted and the smell grew stronger, something dead and rotten.

“I thought you said they don’t eat meat,” Denna said, looking around nervously.

I hopped down from the tree and made my way back to the cliff wall. There was a small log cabin there, smashed to flinders. The rotting smell was stronger.

“Okay,” Denna said, looking over the wreckage. “This does not look harmless at all.”

“We don’t know if the draccus was responsible for this,” I said. “If the Chandrian attacked here, the draccus could have been lured by the fire and caused the destruction while putting it out.”

“You think the Chandrian did this?” she asked. “That doesn’t fit with anything I’ve ever heard of them. They’re supposed to strike like lightning then disappear. They don’t visit, set some fires, then come back later to run a few errands.”

“I don’t know what to think. But two destroyed houses….” I began to sift through the wreckage. “It seems reasonable that they’re related.”

Denna drew in a sharp breath. I followed her line of sight and saw the arm protruding from under several heavy logs.

I moved closer. Flies buzzed up and I covered my mouth a bit in a futile attempt to stave off the smell. “He’s been dead for about two span.” I bent and picked up a tangle of shattered wood and metal. “Look at this.”

“Bring it here and I’ll look at it.”

I brought it back to where she stood. The thing was broken almost beyond recognition. “Crossbow.”

“Didn’t do him much good,” she said.

“The question is why did he have it in the first place?” I looked at the thick piece of blue steel that made the crossbar. “This wasn’t some hunting bow. This is what you use to kill a man in armor from across a field. They’re illegal.”

Denna snorted. “Those sorts of laws don’t get enforced out here. You know that.”

I shrugged. “The fact remains that this was an expensive piece of machinery. Why would someone living in a tiny cabin with a dirt floor own a crossbow worth ten talents?”

“Maybe he knew about the draccus,” Denna said looking around nervously. “I wouldn’t mind a crossbow right about now.”

I shook my head. “Draccus are shy. They stay away from people.”

Denna gave me a frank look, gesturing sarcastically at the wreckage of the cabin.

“Think about every wild creature in the forest,” I said. “All wild creatures avoid contact with people. Like you said, you’ve never even heard of the draccus. There’s a reason for that.”

“Maybe it’s rabid?”

That brought me up short. “That’s a terrifying thought.” I looked around at the ruined landscape. “How on earth would you put something like that down? Can a lizard even catch the froth?”

Denna shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, looking around nervously. “Is there anything else you’d like to look at here? Because I’m done with this place. I don’t want to be here when that thing gets back.”

“Part of me feels like we should give this fellow a decent burial….”

Denna shook her head. “I’m not staying here that long. We can tell someone in town and they can take care of it. It could come back any minute.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why does it keep coming back here?” I pointed. “That tree’s been dead for a span of days, but that one just got torn up a couple days ago….”

“Why do you care?” Denna asked.

“The Chandrian,” I said firmly. “I want to know why they were here. Do they control the draccus?”

“I don’t think they were here,” Denna said. “At the Mauthen farm, maybe.

But this is just the work of a rabid cow-lizard.” She gave me a long look, searching my face. “I don’t know what you came here looking for. But I don’t think you’re going to find it.”

I shook my head, looking around. “I feel like this has to be connected to the farm.”

“I think you want it to be connected,” she said gently. “But this fellow’s been dead a long while. You said so yourself. And remember the doorframe and the water trough at the farm?” She bent down and rapped a knuckle against one of the logs from the ruined cabin. It made a solid sound. “And look at the crossbow—the metal isn’t rusted away. They weren’t here.”

I felt my heart sink in my chest. I knew she was right. Deep down I knew I’d been grasping at straws. Still, it felt wrong giving up without trying everything possible.

Denna took hold of my hand. “Come on. Let’s go.” She smiled and tugged on me. Her hand was cool and smooth in my own. “There’s more interesting things to do than hunt….”

There was a loud splintering noise off in the trees: kkkrek-ke-krrk. Denna dropped my hand and turned to face the way we’d come. “No…” she said. “No no no…”

The sudden threat of the draccus brought me back into focus. “We’re fine,” I said looking around. “It can’t climb. It’s too heavy.”

“Climb what? A tree? It’s been knocking those down for fun!”

“The bluffs.” I pointed to the cliff wall that bordered this little section of forest. “Come on…”

We scrambled to the base of the cliff, stumbling through furrows and jumping over fallen trees. Behind us I heard the rumbling, thunderlike grunt. I darted a glance over my shoulder, but the draccus was still somewhere among the trees.

We got to the base of the cliff and I started searching for a section both of us could climb. After a long frantic minute we emerged from a thick patch of sumac to find a swath of wildly churned-up dirt. The draccus had been digging there.

“Look!” Denna pointed to a break in the cliff, a deep crack about two feet across. It was wide enough for a person to squeeze through, but too narrow for the huge lizard. There were sharp claw marks on the cliff wall and broken rocks scattered around the churned-up earth.

Denna and I squeezed into the narrow gap. It was dark, the only light coming from the narrow strip of blue sky high overhead. As I crept along I was forced to turn sideways in places to make it through. When I brought my hands away from the walls my palms were covered in black soot. Unable to dig its way in, apparently the draccus had breathed fire down into the narrow passage.

After only a dozen feet, the crevasse widened slightly. “There’s a ladder,” Denna said. “I’m going up. If that thing breathes fire at us it will be like rainwater down a gully.”

She climbed and I followed her. The ladder was crude but sturdy, and after twenty feet it opened out onto a piece of level ground. Dark stone surrounded us on three sides, but there was a clear view of the ruined cabin and the destroyed trees below. A wooden box was set against the cliff wall.

“Can you see it?” Denna asked, peering down. “Tell me I didn’t just skin my knees running from nothing.”

I heard a dull whump and I felt a wave of hot air rise up against my back. The draccus grunted again, and another wash of fire ran through the narrow gap below. Then there came a sudden, furious sound like nails on a slate as the draccus clawed madly against the base of the cliff.

Denna gave me a frank look. “Harmless.”

“It’s not after us,” I said. “You saw. It was digging at that wall long before we ever got here.”

Denna sat down. “What is this place?”

“Some sort of lookout,” I said. “You can see the whole valley from here.” “Obviously it’s a lookout,” she sighed. “I’m talking about the whole


I opened the wooden box that was up against the cliff wall. Inside was a rough wool blanket, a full waterskin, some dried meat, and a dozen wickedly sharp crossbow bolts.

“I don’t know either,” I admitted. “Maybe the fellow was a fugitive.”

The noise stopped below. Denna and I peered out over the ruined valley. Eventually the draccus moved away from the cliff. It walked slowly, its huge body digging an irregular rut into the ground.

“It’s not moving as quickly as it did last night,” I said. “Maybe it is sick.” “Maybe it’s tired from a hard day’s trying to track us down and kill us.”

She looked up at me. “Sit down. You’re making me nervous. We’re not going anywhere for a while.”

I sat down and we watched the draccus make its plodding way to the middle of the valley. It went up to a tree about thirty feet tall and pushed it over without any noticeable effort.

Then it began to eat it, leaves first. Next it crunched up branches thick as my wrist as easily as a sheep would tear up a mouthful of grass. When the trunk was finally stripped bare, I assumed it would have to stop. But it simply clamped its huge, flat mouth down on one end of the trunk and twisted its massive neck. The trunk splintered and broke, leaving the draccus with a large but manageable mouthful that it bolted down more or less whole.

Denna and I took the opportunity to eat some lunch of our own. Just some flatbread, sausage, and the rest of my carrots. I was hesitant to trust the food

in the box, as there was the distinct possibility that the fellow living here had been some manner of crazy.

“It still amazes me that no one around here has ever seen it,” Denna said. “People have probably caught glimpses,” I said. “The swineherd said

everyone knows there’s something dangerous in these woods. They probably just assumed it was a demon or some nonsense like that.”

Denna glanced back at me, an amused curl to her mouth. “Says the fellow who came to town looking for the Chandrian.”

“That’s different,” I protested hotly. “I don’t go around spouting faerie stories and touching iron. I’m here so I can learn the truth. So I can have information that comes from somewhere more reliable than thirdhand stories.”

“I didn’t mean to touch a nerve,” Denna said, taken aback. She looked back down below. “It really is an incredible animal.”

“When I read about it I didn’t really believe about the fire,” I admitted. “It seemed a little far-fetched to me.”

“More far-fetched than a lizard big as a horse cart?”

“That’s just a matter of size. But fire isn’t a natural thing. If nothing else, where does it keep the fire? It’s obviously not burning inside.”

“Didn’t they explain it in that book you read?” Denna asked

“The author had some guesses, but that’s all. He couldn’t catch one to dissect it.”

“Understandable,” Denna said as she watched the draccus casually nudge over another tree and begin eating that one as well. “What sort of a net or a cage would hold it?”

“He had some interesting theories though,” I said. “You know how cow manure gives off a gas that burns?”

Denna turned to look at me and laughed. “No. Really?”

I nodded, grinning. “Farm kids will strike sparks onto a fresh cow pat and watch it burn. That’s why farmers have to be careful about storing manure. The gas can build up and explode.”

“I’m a city girl,” she said chuckling. “We didn’t play those sorts of games.”

“You missed some big fun,” I said. “The author suggested that the draccus just stores that gas in a bladder of some kind. The real question is how it lights the gas. The author has a clever idea about arsenic. Which makes sense, chemically. Arsenic and coal gas will explode if you put them together. That’s how you get marsh lights in swamps. But I think that’s a little unreasonable. If it had that much arsenic in its body, it would poison itself.”

“Mmmm-hmm,” Denna said, still watching the draccus below.

“But if you think about it, all it needs is a tiny spark to ignite the gas,” I said. “And there are plenty of animals that can create enough galvanic force

for a spark. Clip eels, for example, can generate enough to kill a man, and they’re only a couple of feet long.” I gestured toward the draccus. “Something that big could certainly generate enough for a spark.”

I was hoping that Denna would be impressed by my ingenuity, but she seemed distracted by the scene below.

“You’re not really listening to me, are you?”

“Not so much,” she said, turning to me and giving a smile. “I mean, it makes perfect sense to me. It eats wood. Wood burns. Why wouldn’t it breathe fire?”

While I tried to think of a response to that, she pointed down into the valley. “Look at the trees down there. Do they look odd to you?”

“Aside from being destroyed and mostly eaten?” I asked. “Not particularly.”

“Look how they’re arranged. It’s hard to see because the place is a shambles, but it looks like they were growing in rows. Like someone planted them.”

Now that she pointed it out, it did look like a large section of the trees had been in rows before the draccus came. A dozen rows with a score of trees each. Most of them were now only stumps or empty holes.

“Why would someone plant trees in the middle of a forest?” She mused. “It’s not an orchard…. Did you see any fruit?”

I shook my head.

“And those trees are the only ones the draccus has been eating,” she said. “There’s the big clear spot in the middle. The others he knocks down, but those he knocks down and eats.” She squinted. “What kind of tree is it eating right now?”

“I can’t tell from here,” I said. “Maple? Does it have a sweet tooth?”

We looked for a while longer, then Denna got to her feet. “Well, the important thing is that it’s not going to run over and breathe fire down our backs. Let’s go see what’s at the other end of that narrow path. I’m guessing it’s a way out of here.”

We headed down the ladder and made our slow, winding way along the bottom of the tiny crevasse. It twisted and turned for another twenty feet before opening up into a tiny box canyon with steep walls rising away on every side.

There was no way out, but it was obviously being put to some use. The place had been cleared of plants, leaving a packed dirt floor. Two long fire pits had been dug, and resting over the pits on brick platforms were large metal pans. They almost resembled the rendering vats that knackers use for tallow. But these were wide, flat, and shallow, like baking pans for enormous pies.

“It does have a sweet tooth!” Denna laughed. “This fellow was making

maple candy here. Or syrup.”

I moved closer to look. There were buckets laying around, of the sort that could carry maple sap so it could be boiled down. I opened the door of a tiny ramshackle shed and saw more buckets, long wooden paddles for stirring the sap, scrapers for getting it out of the pans….

But it didn’t feel right. There were plenty of maple trees in the forest. It didn’t make sense to cultivate them. And why pick such an out-of-the-way place?

Maybe the fellow was simply crazy. Idly, I picked up one of the scrapers and looked at it. The edge was smeared dark, like it had been scraping tar….

“Eech!” Denna said behind me. “Bitter. I think they burned it.”

I turned around and saw Denna standing by one of the firepits. She had pried a large disk of sticky material out of the bottom of one of the pans and taken a bite out of it. It was black, not the deep amber color of maple candy.

I suddenly realized what was really going on here. “Don’t!”

She looked at me, puzzled. “It’s not that bad.” She said, her words muffled through her sticky mouthful. “It’s strange, but not really unpleasant.”

I stepped over to her knocked it out of her hand. Her eyes flashed angrily at me. “Spit it out!” I snapped. “Now! It’s poison!”

Her expression went from angry to terrified in a flash. She opened her mouth and let the wad of dark stuff fall to the ground. Then she spat, her saliva thick and black. I pressed my water bottle into her hands. “Rinse your mouth out,” I said. “Rinse and spit it out.”

She took the bottle, and then I remembered it was empty. We’d finished it during lunch.

I took off running, scrambling through the narrow passage. I darted up the ladder, grabbed the waterskin, then down and back to the small canyon.

Denna was sitting on the canyon floor, looking very pale and wide-eyed. I thrust the waterskin into her hands and she gulped so quickly that she choked, then gagged a bit as she spat it out.

I reached into the fire pit, pushing my hand deep into the ashes until I found the unburned coals underneath. I brought up a handful of unburned charcoal. I shook my hand, scattering most of the ashes away, then thrust the handful of black coals at her. “Eat this,” I said.

She looked at me blankly.

“Do it!” I shook the handful of coals at her. “If you don’t chew this up and swallow it, I’ll knock you out and force it down your throat!” I put some in my own mouth. “Look, it’s fine. Just do it.” My tone softened, became more pleading than commanding. “Denna, trust me.”

She took some coals and put them in her mouth. Face pale and eyes beginning to brim with tears, she gritted up a mouthful and took a drink of water to wash it down, grimacing.

“They’re harvesting Goddamn ophalum here,” I said. “I’m an idiot for not seeing it sooner.”

Denna started to say something, but I cut her off. “Don’t talk. Keep eating. As much as you can stomach.”

She nodded solemnly, her eyes wide. She chewed, choked a little, and swallowed the charcoal with another mouthful of water. She ate a dozen mouthfuls in quick succession, then rinsed her mouth out again.

“What’s ophalum?” she asked softly.

“A drug. Those are denner trees. You just had a whole mouthful of denner resin.” I sat down next to her. My hands were shaking. I lay them flat against my legs to hide it.

She was quiet at that. Everyone knew about denner resin. In Tarbean the knackers had to come for the stiff bodies of sweet-eaters that overdosed in the Dockside alleys and doorways.

“How much did you swallow?” I asked.

“I was just chewing it, like toffee.” Her face went pale again. “There’s still some stuck in my teeth.”

I touched the waterskin. “Keep rinsing.” She swished the water from cheek to cheek before spitting and repeating the process. I tried to guess at how much of the drug she’d gotten into her system, but there were too many variables, I didn’t know how much she had swallowed, how refined this resin was, if the farmers had taken any steps to filter or purify it.

Her mouth worked as her tongue felt around her teeth. “Okay, I’m clean.”

I forced a laugh. “You’re anything but clean,” I said. “Your mouth is all black. You look like a kid that’s been playing in the coal bin.”

“You aren’t much better,” she said. “You look like a chimney sweep.” She reached out to touch my bare shoulder. I must have torn my shirt against the rocks in my rush to get the waterskin. She gave a wan smile that didn’t touch her frightened eyes at all. “Why do I have a belly full of coals?”

“Charcoal is like a chemical sponge,” I said. “It soaks up drugs and poisons.”

She brightened a little. “All of them?”

I considered lying, then thought better of it. “Most. You got it into you pretty quickly. It will soak up a lot of what you swallowed.”

“How much?”

“About six parts in ten,” I said. “Hopefully a little more. How do you feel?”

“Scared,” she said. “Shaky. But other than that, no different.” She shifted nervously where she sat and put her hand on the sticky disk of resin I’d knocked away from her earlier. She flicked it away and wiped her hand nervously on her pants. “How long will it be before we know?”

“I don’t know how much they refined it,” I said. “If it’s still raw, it will

take longer to work its way into your system. Which is good, as the effects will be spread out over a longer period of time.”

I felt for her pulse in her neck. It was racing, which didn’t tell me anything. Mine was racing too. “Look up here.” I gestured with my raised hand and watched her eyes. Her pupils were sluggish responding to the light. I lay my hand on her head and under the pretext of lifting her eyelid a little, I pressed my finger against the bruise on her temple, hard. She didn’t flinch or show the least hint that it pained her.

“I thought I was imagining it before,” Denna said, looking up at me. “But your eyes really do change color. Normally they’re bright green with a ring of gold around the inside….”

“I got them from my mother,” I said.

“But I’ve been watching. When you broke the pump handle yesterday they went dull green, muddy. And when the swineherd made that comment about the Ruh they went dark for just a moment. I thought it was just the light, but now I can see it’s not.”

“I’m surprised you noticed,” I said. “The only other person to ever point it out was an old teacher of mine. And he was an arcanist, which means it’s pretty much his job to notice things.”

“Well it’s my job to notice things about you.” She cocked her head a bit. “People probably are distracted by your hair. It’s so bright. It’s pretty…. pretty distracting. And your face is really expressive. You’re always in control of it, even the way your eyes behave. But not the color.” She gave a faint smile. “They’re pale now. Like green frost. You must be terribly afraid.”

“I’m guessing it’s old-fashioned lust,” I said in my roughest tones. “It’s not often a beautiful girl lets me get this close to her.”

“You always tell me the most beautiful lies,” she said, looking away from me and down to her hands. “Am I going to die?”

“No,” I said firmly. “Absolutely not.”

“Could…” she looked up at me and smiled again, her eyes wet but not overflowing. “Could you just say it out loud for me?”

“You aren’t going to die,” I said, getting to my feet. “Come on, let’s see if our lizard friend is gone yet.”

I wanted to keep her moving around and distracted, so we each had another little drink and headed back to the lookout. The draccus lay sleeping in the sun.

I took the opportunity to stuff the blanket and the dried meat into my travelsack. “I felt guilty about stealing from the dead before,” I said. “But now…”

“At least now we know why he was hiding in the middle of nowhere with a crossbow and a lookout and all that,” Denna said. “A minor mystery solved.”

I started to fasten up my travelsack then, as an afterthought, packed the crossbow bolts as well.

“What are those for?” she asked.

“They’re worth something,” I said. “I’m in debt to a dangerous person. I could use every penny…” I trailed off, my mind working.

Denna looked at me, and I could see her mind jumping to the same conclusion. “Do you know how much that much resin would be worth?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said thinking about the thirty pans, each with a wafer of black, sticky resin congealed in the bottom, big as a dinner plate. “I’m guessing a lot. An awful lot.”

Denna shifted back and forth on her feet. “Kvothe, I don’t know how I feel about this. I’ve seen girls get hooked on this stuff. I need money.” She gave a bitter laugh. “I don’t even have a second set of clothes right now.” She looked worried. “But I don’t know if I need it this badly.”

“I’m thinking of apothecaries,” I said quickly. “They’d refine it into medicine. It’s a powerful painkiller. The price won’t be nearly as good as if we went to the other sort of people, but still, half a loaf….”

Denna smiled broadly. “I’d love half a loaf. Especially since my cryptic prick of a patron seems to have disappeared.”

We headed back down into the canyon. This time as I emerged from the narrow passageway, I saw the evaporating pans in a different light. Now each of them was the equivalent of a heavy coin in my pocket. Next term’s tuition, new clothes, freedom from my debt with Devi….

I saw Denna looking at the trays with the same fascination, though hers was somewhat more glassy-eyed than mine. “I could live comfortably for a year off this,” she said. “And not be beholden to anyone.”

I went to the tool shed and grabbed a scraper for each of us. At the end of a few minutes work we had combined all of the black, sticky pieces into a single wad the size of a sweetmelon.

She shivered a bit, then looked at me, smiling. Her cheeks were flushed. “I suddenly feel really good.” She crossed her arms across her chest, rubbing her hands up and down. “Really, really good. I don’t think it’s just the thought of all that money.”

“It’s the resin,” I said. “It’s a good sign that it’s taken this long to hit you. I’d have been worried if it had happened sooner.” I gave her a serious look. “Now listen. You need to let me know if you feel any heaviness in your chest, or have any trouble breathing. So long as neither of those things happens, you should be fine.”

Denna nodded, then drew a deep breath and let it out again. “Sweet angel Ordal above, I feel great.” She gave me an anxious expression, but the wide grin kept spilling out. “Am I going to get addicted from this?”

I shook my head and she sighed with relief. “You know the damnedest thing? I’m scared about getting addicted, but I don’t care that I’m scared. I’ve never felt like this before. No wonder our big scaly friend keeps coming back for more….”

“Merciful Tehlu,” I said. “I didn’t even think of that. That’s why it was trying to claw its way in here. It can smell the resin. It’s been eating the trees for two span, three or four a day.”

“The biggest sweet-eater of them all, coming back to get his fix.” Denna laughed, then her expression went horrified. “How many trees were left?”

“Two or three,” I said, thinking of the rows of empty holes and broken stumps. “But it may have eaten another since we’ve been back here.”

“Have you ever seen a sweet-eater when they’ve got the hunger on them?” Denna said, her face stricken. “They go crazy.”

“I know,” I said, thinking of the girl I’d seen in Tarbean dancing naked in the snow.

“What do you think it’s going to do when the trees run out?”

I thought for a long moment. “It’s going to go looking for more. And it’s going to be desperate. And it knows the last place where it found the trees had a little house that smelled like people…. We’re going to have to kill it.”

“Kill it?” She laughed, then pressed her hands against her mouth again. “With nothing but my good singing voice and your manly bravado?” She started to giggle uncontrollably, despite the fact that she was holding both her hands in front of her mouth. “God, I’m sorry Kvothe. How long am I going to be like this?”

“I don’t know. The effects of ophalum are euphoria…” “Check.” She winked at me, grinning.

“Followed by mania, some delirium if your dose was high enough, then exhaustion.”

“Maybe I’ll sleep through the night for once,” she said. “You can’t seriously expect to kill this thing. What are you going to use? A pointy stick?” “I can’t just let it run wild. Trebon’s only about five miles from here. And

there’s smaller farms closer than that. Think of the damage it would do.” “But how?” she repeated. “How do you kill a thing like that?”

I turned to the tiny shed. “If we’re lucky this fellow had the good sense to buy a spare crossbow….” I began to dig around, throwing stuff out the door. Stirring paddles, buckets, scrapers, spade, more buckets, a barrel….

The barrel was about the size of a small keg of ale. I carried it outside the shed and pried off the lid. In the bottom was an oilcloth sack containing a large gummy mass of black denner resin, at least four times as much as Denna and I had already scraped together.

I pulled out the sack and rested it on the ground, holding it open for Denna to look. She peered in, gasped, then jumped up and down a little bit.

“Now I can buy a pony!” she said, laughing.

“I don’t know about a pony,” I said, doing some calculations in my head. “But I think before we split up the money, we should buy you a good half-harp out of this,” I said. “Not some sad lyre.”

“Yes!” Denna said, then she threw her arms around me in a wild, delighted hug. “And we’ll get you…” She looked at me curiously, her sooty face inches away from my own. “What do you want?”

Before I could say anything, do anything, the draccus roared.

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