1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 3

I sat in the infirmary, as Renee set my arm in place. The silver paste she had smeared over it was already doing its work, bone knitting back together. The black-scaled woman smiled down at me. I’d learned she was the ship’s doctor. Apparently, she had a great fascination with organs and nervous systems. I had elected not to pursue that information further. The ship had been attacked by a ‘Sun Kraken’. As far as I could tell, it was a type of parasitic life-form that infested certain stars. They weren’t intelligent, but they were incredibly dangerous. Anything which could live in the photosphere of a sun was not to be toyed with. The ship had needed to tear open a wormhole into open space, where the Kraken had quickly expired in the cold, like a giant squid pulled up to the surface of the ocean.

The ship wasn’t harmed, but the groping tentacles of the kraken had shaken it like a cocktail. I was the only one injured, slamming my arm into a table. That had been incredibly embarrassing. Renee had spent the evening taking care of me. I had to admit she was quite a lovely young woman. It was still surprising when she climbed on top of me, straddling me, naked, her hands resting on my shoulders. She leaned in close, her glittering yellow eyes shining as her tail curled around one of my thighs. “I don’t give a fuck about the Captain’s insults. Do you want me?”

Staring up at the amazonian woman, her claws tightened in my shoulders, I considered my options. I certainly found the woman attractive. It would be hard not to. But I was on a ship full of dangerous alien pirates, at least a few of whom had expressed sexual interest in me. It would be like cutting my wrists while swimming with a frenzy of sharks. I opted for the path of cowardice, and let out a cry of pain as her arm pressed against mine, wincing. It didn’t hurt, but I was a good actor. She gasped, her hand going to her mouth. “Is your arm alright?”

“It’s- A bit tender.” I gave her an apologetic smile. “It might have to wait for a while before I’ll be able to get into anything… fun.” I gave her a smile. “How about tonight, after the story?” She looked a little bit uncertain, but then grinned.

“It’s a date.” She skipped out. I held my breath till she was out of the room, and then collapsed back on the bed. Being around the Imperials was odd. Sometimes, they were every inch the consummate crew of pirates. Bloodthirsty, ruthless, and deadly. And yet, they seemed… naive. They were certainly much older than me, but they behaved like schoolgirls half the time. They didn’t have any kind of guile to them. Maybe because their species hadn’t met a problem it couldn’t fight its way through in a long time. I got the feeling that if I screwed around with one of them, the Captain would eagerly sell me off just as a bit of vengeance.

Head full of such concerns, I entered the mess that evening. The whole crew had already gathered. Our ship was on a course to fall into the photosphere of the nearest sun. It would take hours. That meant I had time to enthrall them. I sat down, rubbing my hands together. “So…”

The cabbie sat, waiting for Sinbad. After a few hours in the shipyards, the human man returned, carrying a few documents. “Back to the residence.” The cabbie nodded, and set the computer off.

“So. You said she found something about your dog tags?”

“Ah, yes. Well, I respected her request at first. I didn’t ask her. And the sex- Well, the sex was fantastic. Truly amazing. Like, you would not believe-“

It was as though all of those millenia of loneliness had been compressed into a great lake of lust. The Baroness of the dead world scarcely spent a moment away from Sinbad’s side, and her libido was impossibly high. It was as though some kind of great dam had broken in her, and he was directly in the path. It might have killed a lesser man. But for his part, he was quite enjoying the attentions of the lonely woman. She was intelligent, and thoughtful. She loved to hear stories of his times in war. She loved to tell him of philosophy. He didn’t follow a damn word of the ancient ideas and systems of thought the Shusti Neradi had formed, but they had a kind of lyricism he enjoyed. He could forget about the debt. Mostly. But it gnawed at him, the memory of the debt weighing on his mind. And there were the tags.

So he spent a happy month with her, forgetting those things, as they explored the ancient city, finding things there. There were manuals and texts. The Whepi Neradi had been masters of biological manipulation. They might even have rivaled the Empire someday. The writings on this world would be more than enough to repay his debt. But he didn’t think about that. He focused on her, and how good it felt to be free of obligation. But that didn’t change the dreams.

“What did you mean, when you said that if I knew what the tags meant, I would leave you? Why are they special?”

She looked at him, frowning. The two of them were standing by the water-side. He was eating a bowl of the pap which kept him fed. She was simply keeping him company. They had been looking out over the dark water. “Do you hate being here so much? Would you really ask me to give you the impetus to leave? Do you need to know these things? Can’t you just… be happy? Here?”

He looked down. She sighed. “Of course not. If you were satisfied with being trapped on a desert world with a lonely old worm, you wouldn’t have come here in the first place. Very well… The tags are not merely identification. They are memory.”

The Empire conquered death long ago. It was among its first tricks. The technology was simple. Information and memory stored in a cybernetic implant, and uploaded to the nearest computer system. Nobody had to die of accident or misadventure in the Empire. The only way people generally died was suicide, asking not to be brought back when they next died. It didn’t matter if you killed yourself then, or waited until you died of something else. It was suicide, because you chose not to live.

The philosophy was, to be frank, the most difficult part. Every living creature has a sense that it is undergoing a continuous experience. A discontinuity is perceived as akin to death. Humans have dealt with this in many ways. The uncertainty about the moment when you fall asleep. The strange, misty time where you are slumbering and not dreaming. It is one of the earliest metaphors that death is like going to sleep and never waking up.

More frightening is the experience of a fugue. Alcohol, mental illness, emotional distress, all of these things can erase the memory. You become aware again, and realize you have been acting without remembering what you have done. The slow piecing together of information, finding out what happened in that time, is terrifying, not least because it can contradict who you think you are. These things are the basis for a great deal of existential uncertainty, and were the focus of great study in the Empire.

Everything a person is, so far as Imperial science knows, is in the brain and the body. If a soul exists, it is beyond the grasp of the greatest scientists who have ever existed, and it’s hard to believe something could elude your detection when you are so clever. So, death had a simple cure: Backups. When someone died, their memories were retrieved, and placed in the body of a clone. If there was no soul, and there was no original, then the clone was the same person. Imperial thought got over that a long time ago.

But of course, when it came to clones, there was always the problem of the original. If the last thing you remember is uploading your memories at home, you wake up, and three years later, you are woken up in a hospital and are told your entire platoon disappeared or was wiped out, it creates a substantial anxiety issue. Not knowing what happened, losing who you are, and most tellingly, the fear that you are merely a clone. The terror that your original self will appear, and replace you, that you will be killed or considered simply an extraneous copy, is potent. Even in a society as mature as the Empire there are stories, myths, rumors that people have been declared dead, and then returned years later. It made up a substantial subset of Imperial storytelling, even in the present day.

That’s what the dog tags were for. A tiny, nearly indestructible storage medium. They would contain the memories of the men aboard the ship. It had been entrusted with the human because he was the one most likely to get a rescue. While the others could be discarded by the Empire, he was a human. If something happened to the ship, he would be a priority. Around his neck rested the memories of the men he had served with aboard the ship. Every one of them depending on him returning to civilization. It would grant closure. It would let them know how they died. It might be strange, but that knowledge, the certainty of what happened, was incredibly important. Otherwise, a part of the revived was always left out there in the universe, unknown.

Sinbad sat on the small, oddly shaped platform he used as a chair in the building. He stared down at the tags. “You were going to keep this from me?” He tried to keep the tone of bitter recrimination out of his voice. To not let the anger show in the way he spoke. He failed. He saw the anger crystallizing on her features. It was difficult not to feel angry at her. Of course, he had loyalty to his comrades. He had to return these things if he could. And there were other reasons, which became all the more clear. The debt, for one.

“Do you think I want to keep you here so desperately? That I cannot withstand loneliness? I have been alone for most of my life. I do not need you.”

The air was cold between them, his fists opening and closing slowly, his breathing coming fast. If that was the way she wanted to play it, that was fine. “Then how do I leave?”

She turned away from him. “It is simple. The Star Clan children have been born. Their parents will arrive soon, to feed them. Within a few days, I am sure. They will be diving to harvest. They will seize the worms from the surface, my children. They will feed them to their children.” She let out a breath. “That is your chance. If you manage to seize hold of one of the worms as it is carried up, you will be noticed by the Whale. It will take you aboard, and should take you to a safe port. They are compassionate creatures.”

Sinbad frowned. Riding a gigantic, predatory worm up into the atmosphere, depending on the good grace of the people who he had trespassed on, and who he had given no real reason to leave him alive. That was not a great plan. He would have loved to have a better choice. “Alright. Where can I find them?”

She waved a hand dismissively. “Go out into the desert. Maybe you will get lucky. I have no interest in helping you. Know, though, if you leave this world, I will curse you. Thricefold, with all the power that I possess. I know fey mathematics and occult linguistics.” There was a cold atmosphere around her. A heavy sense of doom surrounded her, as she lowered her head. “If you leave me, I will not be merciful. Whatever burdens weigh on your soul, I hope they are worth it.”

“I don’t have to go forever. There are things I need to do, but after that, I can-“

“What? Come back? To a dead world, where nothing lives? No. You cannot. Do you know where this star is? Do you know where we are in the galaxy? The merchant is sworn not to tell you. The Whales will not share their spawning ground with outsiders. You will leave this place, and even if you wanted to return, you never will.” She shook her head, hair hanging over her eyes. “Leave this place. Take all the water you can carry. You will need it. And if you wish to come back and beg for your life, then I will allow you to return.” She turned her back on him. And so he did what she said. He filled a few plastic skins that they had found in the building with water. It was enough for three days travel out, and three days travel back. If he went beyond, he would die. There was little question about that in his head.

He marched into the night, heading due south, using the unfamiliar stars to guide him. The air was frigid at night, but he could deal with that. When daylight came, he set up the small tent, keeping the sun off of his shoulders. The heat was excruciating, greater even than it had been on Orion, and he lay sleeping fitfully, dreaming he was still in Atropos’ arms. His eyes would snap open in the middle of the day, her words on his lips.

On the third day, he stood on the crest of a sand dune. The rock was no longer visible to the north. He sat for nearly half an hour, and then continued south. At least, what he was calling south. It occurred to him that such a name was ludicrous. He had no idea where the magnetic poles of the world were, or even if it still had them under the savage blue star. His skin cracked under the ferocious sunlight, burning painfully as he slept in the tent, cutting through the fabric, and keeping him up late into the day. Walking became more difficult as fatigue grew more intense.

On the eighth day, his water ran out.

On the twelfth day, a sandstorm raged, and though he barely survived in the lee of a great worn rock formation, his tent was torn away in the ferocious winds.

On the fifteenth day he collapsed, and lay in the sand for an hour. He did not move. His body was empty. No food, no water. It had none of the things it needed to fuel itself. He wondered if this would be the way he died.

He looked up. He thought he saw Atropos, standing in front of him. Her body soft, inviting, gentle. He reached out, and found his hand running through sand. He had been having a small dream. He forced himself to his feet, and kept walking. There was nothing left in him, and each step was more of a collapse than anything else. But somehow, his feet always wound up moving forwards.

As the sun rose on the sixteenth day, he lay on the ground, covering himself mostly with sand. Just a small space left open to his side, using his shirt to cover his head. He was buried nearly a foot deep, where the sand would not bake him alive. A small passage was covered by the shirt, allowing him to breathe the sauna-like air. He was roasting in his own skin.

The ground shook. He ignored it. The world felt like it was spinning most of the time, now. Then, he heard a scream, and a sonic boom. He burst out of the sand, and stared up. The Whale, fully grown, dove into the atmosphere, its impenetrable hide covered in flames as it roared its way down the atmosphere. It fell like a meteor, and a couple of kilometers up, the massive creature hit the nadir of its parabolic arc. A worm was ripped from the earth, rushing upwards, as though it had breached. Instead of slowing, it accelerated, hurtling into the sky after the Whale. Sinbad’s jaw dropped.

The ground all around was writhing and boiling. Worms were rising to the ground, curious about the fuss. More sonic booms hit, as fireballs appeared in the sky. He looked around, and saw one of the worms, subway-car-sized, wriggling a hundred meters away. He began running. The sound of the biological starships grew louder, a roar like the end of civilizations and species. He saw the worm begin to rise in the air as he reached the halfway point. He put on a desperate burst of speed, running as hard as he could. The last ten meters were cleared in a single breathless sprint, and he leapt. His fingers hooked into the carapace, grabbing into the pitted blue armor of the worm, tightening his grip.

The acceleration was intense, but he didn’t feel it. The gravitic organ had captured the worm, and was pulling it up, higher and higher. The blue was rapidly giving way to black, as the worm shrieked and struggled. His lungs rose and fell, but he wasn’t getting any oxygen, and his head began to spin. His eyes fluttered, as his fingers lost their grip. He tried to keep them tightened, but they simply didn’t have the energy anymore. He spun away from the worm. He twirled in the air as the gravity of the desert world reasserted itself. He had given it his all. Nobody could accuse him of doing any less. He closed his eyes.

There was a sudden tug. He opened his eyes, and found himself lying in an airlock. It closed behind him, and a young woman entered. Her skin was gray, and she was slender, wearing a jumpsuit. She was the eidolon of the ship, like the Baroness’ soft, welcoming pink body. She helped him up to his feet, gently propping him up, and held out a bulb to him. He poured out a bit of water onto his hands, and let it drip down onto the ground. She opened her mouth to protest, and he shook his head. Only then did he lift it to his lips and drink deep. He drained the bulb in a single long chug, his tongue regaining its pliability as the water poured down his throat. She waited for him to finish before she spoke. “I must apologize for the actions of our children. They made your life difficult; I hope you will not hold it against them.”

“How did you find me?” he asked, his voice raspy, and weak.

“We were contacted. The Baroness told us where you would be, and how you would reach us. We were rather surprised, I must admit. You know how dangerous that maneuver was?” He grabbed a second bulb from her hands as she produced it, drinking thirstily. “She wanted to speak to you. We will be out of communications range, soon- Hey!”

At her words, he’d pushed past her, moving to the communication panel, the bulb still in his hand. “Atropos?”

There was a moment of silence. Then, the grill crackled to life. “Well, you made it. Foolish man. You should have turned back when you ran out of water. I didn’t think you would make it.”

He rested his hand on the console, his forehead pressed against the metal of the compartment. “How did you know what happened?”

“I was following you. Idiot. You think the Baroness of this world cannot be stealthy when she wants to be?”

The two of them shared a laugh, as he brushed the tears out of his eyes. “I thought you said you’d curse me if you left.”

“Of course. You can’t suffer from a curse if you are not alive, can you?” She laughed softly. Her voice was sweet, ringing like a bell. “Listen carefully. In the name of the Whepi Neradi, in the name of the Shusti Neradi, and in the name of the Empress Lilith, I curse you thricefold. I curse you that you shall live in interesting times. I curse you that you shall achieve that which your heart desires. And I curse you that you shall not die, no matter how great the adversity you throw yourself into.”

He leaned against the grill, turning to face away from it, slowly sinking down. He was exhausted. “Those don’t sound like much of a curse, Atropos. Health, wealth, and an interesting life. You’re a terrible witch, you know that?” His cheeks were growing wet, tear ducts that had been left dry and dusty beginning to work again.

“You think so, Sinbad the Spacefarer? When the stars have grown cold, you may think otherwise.” She laughed. There was no malice in her voice, just a great deal of pain.

“I promise you. I will come back when my debts are repaid. I won’t leave you alone on that world.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. I’ll be fine.” There was a moment of silence. “Sinbad… If you were to have children… What would you name them?”

“I suppose… Khalifa, for my mother. Or Lars, for my father.”

“Khalifa… The successor. That’s a good name, you know. I think I will use it.” The voice was becoming crackly, interference making it harder to hear her.

“For what?”

“You’re a good man, Sinbad. I’m glad you made the right choice. I will be alright-“


The hiss grew greater, drowning out the words. He leaned his head back against the cold metal. The gray woman frowned softly. “What was all of that about?”

He closed his eyes.

“She was pregnant?” The cabbie asked, his eyes opened wide in astonishment.’

“I do not know. She said it was not possible. But Imperial and human genetics are… compatible, in strange ways. As I’m sure you’re aware.” Sinbad stared out the window. “Perhaps I have a daughter out there. A worm on a desert planet, whose mother is no longer the last of her kind.”

“Was it worth it? Paying back the debt?”

“Of course. For you see, it was not I who accrued the debt.”

Sinbad sat in a small cafe. It sat on the habitation deck of one of the great Border Jacks, where humans left human space and entered the Empire, and were counted by the Bureau of Emigration. It was shaped roughly like a tremendous jack, six spikes extending from a central location, with massive orbs on the tip of each spike. The prices were predictably excessive, leading to the traditional complaint, ‘I got jacked at the Border.’ The frequency with which Imperials looked for a partner among humans lead to the similar but more positive statement, ‘I got jacked off at the Border.’

But of course, Sinbad wasn’t paying. The man sitting across from him was. The old colonel sipped his tea. The gray-haired man looked different out of his usual dress uniform. “An interesting encounter. So you don’t have the location of the Star Clan breeding site?”

“No,” Sinbad lied.

“And you don’t know how we could find these biotechnology texts your report mentions.”

“No,” Sinbad lied.

“Problematic.” The colonel leaned back. Sinbad sipped his tea. He had a good grasp on the stars, and an excellent memory. He’d punched the star positions into a navigation computer, memorized the location, and tossed the computer into extremely close orbit of the nearest sun. He knew where the woman was. He had promised her, after all.


“Two key strategic resources. A supply of Whales could have meant a quantum leap in our ability to project force. They’re peaceful creatures, and slow-growing, but imagine what they could do when properly trained with a military mind-set. They’d advance human drive technology and hull-building by a generation or more. And that technology… She said they could rival the Empire? Imagine it.”


“Don’t give me that ‘Sir’ horse-shit, Sinbad. I’m not a superior officer. I’m just the man who holds the shock collar.” He leaned back. “Speaking of which. Do we need to remind you of that fact? You took your sweet time getting back to civilization, especially considering you didn’t bring anything good back with you.”

“This wasn’t a failure. I recovered the memories of the merchant and his men. They were damn grateful. I’ll be going out on another voyage within the year.”

“You know why you’re doing this, boy?”


“You’ve been out there for a few months. You know why you’re doing this?”

“Because I have a debt to repay.”

“That’s why you don’t have any choice. But do you know why you’re doing this?”

Sinbad thought of the sight of ships diving into a gravity well like swallows. Fluttering through the atmosphere with a grace that made the finest aircraft humanity had look clumsy and dull. Imagine if they were turned against humans. “Sir?”

“Someday, Heaven’s going to get tired of our shit. Or the Empire’s going to decide it doesn’t like having us act uppity. They’re going to step on our necks, Sinbad. And hard. The Fleet’s a sick joke. We aren’t going to survive in this galaxy if we don’t have teeth.”


“Go find us some.”

Sinbad stood up, his back straight, and left the cafe, his expensive Earth-grown coffee cooling on the table. He couldn’t go back. Not yet. He’d be followed if he tried, and things would repeat themselves. And then, there was his family.

The cabbie whistled softly. “That’s a hell of a secret to keep, Sinbad.”

The man nodded. “The time for keeping secrets is nearly over. I needed somebody to know. If you are available tomorrow, I have another set of errands I need help with. If you can help me-“

“Of course, sir. It’d be my genuine honor.” The cabbie smiled, reaching out, and clasped Sinbad’s hand. The two shook, and parted for the time being.

I took a sip of the small glass of sweet fruit juice. It tasted something like kiwis and spinach mixed together. Wincing, I placed the cup back down on the mess, looking around the crowd of rapt faces. “And that is the story of Sinbad’s first voyage.”

“Did he ever go back to her?”

“Yeah, and did he beat up the Colonel?”

“What was his debt?!”

I held up my hands. “Ladies, I will continue the story another time. It appears the ship hasn’t yet made it to the sun, though, so, how about I tell you the story of the Emperor who became an Aberrant?”

In the Empire, shape and citizenship are more a matter of inclination than birth. Bodies tend to be available enough that a pacifist born to the Reptile Kingdom can always leave their shape behind, and one of the Aquatic Kingdom who would prefer to fly can find room in the Avian Clan of the Beast Kingdom. Social pressures tend to ensure that more than 90% of the population stay within the body they were born in, at least for the first few hundred years. But nonetheless, society has room for those who wish to change who they are on the deepest and most philosophical levels. There are two exceptions to this.

First, among the Constructs. Those who are born in steel frame and copper circuit, or whatever ultra-advanced equivalents may apply, are restricted to such shapes. While they may take bodies that resemble those of other Kingdoms, they are still Constructs, and are held at arms length by the Empire. The reasons for this are simple paranoia, and fear of being replaced by machine intelligences. It is not as great an issue, however, as that of the Aberrant Kingdom.

The Aberrant Kingdom are those who have been conquered. Those who are now Imperials, and have no choice in the matter. Now, they have their own Kingdom, and their own independent Realm; But it was not always so. There was a time when the Aberrants were an underclass, held underfoot by the Empire, given no choice in their leaders, and living lives of servitude. The tradition of not allowing Imperials to become Aberrants, or vice-versa, dates from this era, when they were considered little more than savages, good for nothing more than positions as servants and slaves.

The Emperor in these days was one of the Undead Kingdom. The Emperor Pai Ten Shi, a Vampire of great power, he had once been of the Beast Kingdom, before joining the Undead Kingdom to increase his personal power, and to extend his life in the face of advancing age and entropy. He was chosen in the aftermath of the Third Great Crusade, as a leader who could offer stability to the Empire after the dizzying blow Heaven had struck it. He was, despite his great and endless power, a man who was prone to compassion. He made time for individuals between arranging the affairs of ten million stars. That was his joy in life.

It was in the year of his reign 1871 that a problem arose. An Aberrant uprising of unprecedented force rose in the Independent Kingdoms, in the far end of the Orion Spur. They conquered nearly an entire dukedom before the Reptile Kingdom crushed them underfoot. In the aftermath, the Emperor realized he had to do something to understand what had driven the Aberrants to their actions. His actions were, in light of his behavior, predictable.

There is a tradition among Imperials, chiefly among the Undead. When one grows old enough, a desire for something fresh becomes overwhelming. Some simply seek out new experiences, while others erase memories of old experiences to see them anew. The greatest expression of this is in Reincarnation. An old intelligence, placed in the body of a child, with the vast majority of their conscious memories removed, but their personality relatively intact. It was considered, by many, to be little more than a way to pass time. There were not many who, having grown so old, could change who they were through a new set of experiences.

But, Pai Ten Shi was not like other Imperials.

He left orders with his closest vassals. They would claim he was in deep contemplation, and not to be disturbed. He left his body behind, and downloaded his consciousness into an Aberrant body, that of a young woman, so as to disguise his true nature. Then, his memories were erased, and his vassals were left with instructions to awaken him in ten years, or if the Empire should find itself in danger. And so, the great Emperor took the body of a frail young woman, and was transported far from his palace, dumped into one of the Aberrant ghettos in the independent realms of the Orion Spur.

If he had known about the consequences of his actions, perhaps he would not have forged ahead. If he had known his Vizier had his own plans for the body of the great Vampire Pai Ten Shi, perhaps he would have stayed. But the Vizier was cunning. Perhaps he was even the one who planted the seed of the plan in the Emperor’s head. What is known is that the Vizier transferred his mind into the body of the Emperor, and began to rule, impersonating his old friend. Under his harsh rule, the Aberrants found themselves suppressed more than ever, and public opinion turned against the Emperor, as even the other Kingdoms found the treatment too brutal to stomach.

Then, a bell rang. I smiled. “It sounds as though we are now in the photosphere, so the story will have to continue next time.” The crew dispersed, complaining bitterly about the story ending just as it was getting juicy. I leaned back. That was always a good sign. If you let an audience leave satisfied, they might not feel as compelled to come back the next time. The room emptied out, and I leaned back. The captain frowned, sitting across from me.

“Is that true?”

“It’s a matter of public record, in fact. The story is fascinating, one of the great tales of Imperial-“

“Not that. The colonel. Sinbad. Was he trying to steal technology from us? So humans could fight us?”

“I don’t know. It would not surprise me, but the only confirmation I have of these things is Sinbad’s word, and that of the cabbie.”

“… Are you humans really that afraid of us?” she asked, looking amused as she leaned, her wings folded against her back.

I studied her for a moment, frowning. “The fact that you’re keeping me prisoner, and have threatened to sell me or kill me aside, you’re powerful. Every one of you is terrifyingly strong. It would be easy for you to destroy us. Doesn’t that scare everyone?” She shrugged. “So. Are you going to throw me out of the airlock today?”

She crossed her arms, lying her head down on them as she slumped onto the table. “Not today. You promised Renee you were going to join her in her cabin. I couldn’t keep you from that date. Ask me tomorrow.”

My eyes drifted over to the cabin door, where the tall, dark-skinned woman stood, a broad grin on her face. She held a fruit like a red-skinned cucumber in one hand, and a large bottle of some fluid in the other. I swallowed. “You sure about that?”

“I’m still stinging about the fear comment.” She waved a hand. “Go have fun.”

I cursed internally as I walked to the doorway, the Scale Clan woman grabbing my arm, and dragging me along, beginning to go into great and viscerally graphic detail about what she planned to do to me, full of mischievous delight as she explained.

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