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TFT snippet #3

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TFT snippet #3
Post by runsforcelery   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:55 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2230
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

People —

I am so far behind on so many things, and I apologize for how . . . laggardly my sniffing has been. I would promise that it'll get better, but I'm not sure it will.

Given the delay, this snippet is about twice as long as my usual snippets. And I'll try to have another one for you sometime before the next millennium. :roll:

___________________________________________________________



* * * * * * * * * *

"That was delicious," Ruhsail Thairis, Duke Eastshare, said.

He sat back from the table with his snifter of after-dinner brandy and smiled at his hosts. Darkness had fallen, and the rain fell even harder than before. Outside the window overlooking the palace gardens the gas jet lamps burned like wet diamonds in the rain and a pleasant breeze – damp but gentle — fluttered the edges of the tablecloth.

"It certainly should've been," Cayleb replied with a grin. "I made it clear enough heads would roll if it wasn't, anyway!"

"Oh, a paragon of ruthlessness if ever I met one!" Eastshare chuckled. "No wonder everyone's so terrified of you here in Tellesberg."

"Actually, I really can be ruthless, when I have to," Cayleb said, and Eastshare's eyebrows rose, because the emperor's tone had turned unwontedly serious.

"I know you can," the duke said after a moment. "But I've never known you to be trivial about it. Admittedly, dinner isn't a trivial affair, but still —"

He shrugged, and Cayleb flickered a smile. But he also shook his head.

"I'm serious, Ruhsail. And the truth is that Sharley and I didn't ask you to stop off in Tellesberg on your way home just because we wanted to have dinner with you. Oh, that would've been reason enough! And you saw how happy Alahnah was to see you. But the truth is, there's something we need to discuss."

"Of course." Eastshare set his brandy glass on the table and looked back and forth between his emperor and empress. "What is it?"

"This is going to be difficult, Ruhsail," Sharleyan said. She reached out and took his hand in hers. "I'm afraid it's going to be painful, too. Not because of anything you've done," she added quickly as his eyes narrowed. "Cayleb and I couldn't possibly have a finer general or a better friend. But there's something we have to share with you, and I'm afraid it may be hard for you."

"Sharley," Eastshare said, covering their clasped hands with his free hand, "I can't imagine anything you could tell me or ask of me that I couldn't give you."

"I hope you still feel that way in about an hour, Your Grace," another voice said, and Eastshare looked over his shoulder to see that Merlin Athrawes had just entered the room. The tall seijin looked unusually sober this evening, and the duke cocked his head.

"Should I assume, then, that this is more seijin business, Merlin?"

"In a lot of ways, yes," Merlin replied. "But, actually, it starts well before the first seijin ever set foot on Safehold. In fact, it begins before the Day of Creation itself."

Eastshare's nostrils flared and he looked quickly back at Sharleyan. She only nodded, and he returned his gaze to Merlin. His brown eyes held Merlin's eyes of seijin blue for a long, steady second.

"That . . . sounds ominous," he said then. "On the other hand, I've never known you to lie to me. So why don't you get started?"

"Of course." Merlin dipped his head in a curiously formal little bow. Then he straightened and squared his broad shoulders.

"First," he began, "you have to know why there was a 'Day of Creation' here on Safehold at all. You see —"

* * * * * * * * * *

"You really mean it," an ashen-faced Ruhsail Thairis said the better part of ninety minutes later. "You really mean it."

"Yes, we do, Ruhsail," Sharleyan said softly. "And it's not just Merlin's word for it, either. Not just the 'coms' or the 'holograms.' Not even that." She waved at the fireplace poker Merlin had twisted into a pretzel in a casual demonstration of his "PICA's" superhuman strength. "We've been to 'Nimue's Cave.' We've seen it. And Merlin's used his 'technology' to save both our lives more than once. The proof is there, Ruhsail. It truly is."

"No, Sharley." He shook his head, his voice sad, but there was no hesitation in his tone. "The evidenc e may be there, but not the proof. "

"Ruhsail —" Cayleb began, but Eastshare raised his hand, far more demandingly than he ever had to Cayleb Ahrmahk before, and shook his head again, harder.

"Don't, Cayleb." His tone was harder, flatter, then it had been. "I believe you're a good man. I believe — I've always believed — you love Sharleyan dearly, and that you're a man of honor, doing what you believe you must. But not this. Never this!"

"Ruhsail, it's not —"

"Not one more word, Merlin! Or . . . Nimue. Or whoever — or whatever — the hell else you may be!" Eastshare snapped, glaring at the man who'd been his friend for years. "I trusted [i] you. More than that, the people I [i]love trusted you! Spare me any more lies, any more perversions!"

"Ruhsail," tears gleamed in Sharleyan's eyes, "no one's lied to you, I swear it!"

"You haven't, and Cayleb hasn't," Eastshare grated, "but this demon sure as Shan-wei has!" He emphasized Shan-wei's name heavily and deliberately. "And he's lied to you, and he's lied to Maikel Staynair, and he's lied to the entire world! Can't you see that?"

"No, I can't," she told him. "Because he hasn't. I told you this would be hard, but it's the truth, Ruhsail. It's nothing but the truth, and we've told you because we're so tired of not telling you. Because we owe you the truth."

"I believe that's exactly what you've done, but the fact that this . . . this thing has convinced you to believe its lies doesn't make a lie the truth and doesn't change blasphemy into something else."

"But the evidence is right here in front of your eyes," Sharleyan said pleadingly. She touched the twisted poker and stared into his eyes. "The proof is right here!"

"I don't see anything that one of Shan-wei's demons couldn't have produced!" Eastshare retorted. "And the Writ didn't call her 'Mother of Lies' for nothing! Am I supposed to believe that what he has to say and to show me here turns nine centuries of the truth into a lie? Oh, it's a clever lie, I'll give 'Nimue' that! But compared to the Writ, the Testimonies, every written word of history for nine hundred years, to the miracles that happen every single day in the Temple? Sharley, how could you and Cayleb fall for this? Have you forgotten what Chihiro said about Shan-wei? Forgotten how she deceived and seduced our entire world into evil?"

"But —"

"No." Eastshare's nostrils flared and he rose from his chair, facing Merlin with fiery eyes. "If this is what Byrtrym had come to suspect, no wonder he joined forces with the Temple Loyalists." Tears glistened on his own cheeks. "And, God help me, if this is what he was trying to stop, Sharley, I wish to God he'd succeeded. I love you, but if this is what he was trying to stop, then at least you'd have died as one of God's own."

"I'm still one of God's own." Sharleyan's mouth quivered and her face was wet, but she raised her head and met his eyes without flinching when he darted another look at her. "I will always be God's own, Ruhsail. And that's why I have no choice but to bring this world back to Him and away from the filthy lie Eric Langhorne and Adorée Bédard and Maruyama Chihiro told a thousand years ago!"

"Listen to yourself, Sharley!" Eastshare pled.

"I have listened, Ruhsail," she said softly. "I've listened not just to Merlin, not just to Maikel, not just to Jeremiah Knowles and thousands upon thousands of years of recorded history from long before 'Creation' here. Not even just to Cayleb. I've listened to my own heart, my own soul. And you're right, if I'm wrong I've given myself to damnation and I'm leading this entire world into it right along with me. But I'm not wrong. And Merlin's no liar, no demon. And Pei Shan-wei was a good woman — not an archangel; a woman — who was murdered as the very first victim of the lie which has kept this entire world in chains for a thousand years."

"And you're not going to retreat one step from that, are you?" Eastshare's voice was quiet, and she shook her head. "No, of course you aren't," he said. "Because you're a brave woman, and — like Cayleb — a woman of honor. And of faith. And this is what you truly believe, but, oh, Sharley, you're so wrong. And I can only pray that in the end you fail. Because the thought of what this world will become if you succeed is more than I can stand."

Silence hovered against the backdrop of the pounding rain, and then Ruhsail Thairis, Duke of Eastshare, looked back at Merlin Athrawes.

"I won't damn you to hell, because that's where you came from in the first place," he said. "But I will tell you this. I will never bow my head or bend my knee to your foul mistress, and I curse the day I helped you defeat Zhaspahr Clyntahn. I know I'll face the price for that someday – someday very soon — but I know the truth now. So you go ahead and do what you have to do, because if you let me walk out that door alive, I will denounce you from the steps of Tellesberg Cathedral!"

"Of course you will," Merlin said sadly. "It takes a man of honor to know a man of honor, and I can't tell you how deeply I regret what I see in your eyes when you look at me now. I know you don't want to hear this, but I have always been — and I remain now, despite what you believe, what you think — honored by your friendship."

Eastshare's lips twisted, but he said nothing, only glared.

"Ruhsail, we wouldn't have risked telling you this if our only option had been to kill you if you couldn't accept it," Merlin told him. "Sharleyan and Cayleb love you too much for that. I love you too much for that."

"It is the only option you have," Eastshare said flatly.

"No, it isn't." Merlin reached into his belt pouch and extracted a small, cylindrical rod of glittering crystal. "And someday, when the time comes, we'll have another conversation, you and I. Until that day, I can only say I respect and admire you as much as I've ever respected or admired another human being and I would give anything in the universe to not have to do this."



.II.
Tellesberg Cathedral,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis;

and

Nimue's Cave,
Mountains of Light,
Episcopate of St. Ehrnesteen,
The Temple Lands.


"'I am the resurrection and the life, says the Archangel Langhorne: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me and keeps the Law I have given, shall never die.

"'I know that the Archangels live, and that they shall stand at the latter day upon the world, and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold Him, and not as a stranger.

"'We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord and his servants, the Archangels.'"

Maikel Staynair's deep voice rolled out across the hushed pews of Tellesberg Cathedral in the ancient Office of the Dead. There was not another sound as the people of Tellesberg gathered to support their empress in the moment of her grief. Every man and woman in that cathedral knew how deeply Sharleyan Ahrmahk had loved her aunt's brother. And now, here in Charis, she'd lost both her Uncle Byrtrym and his brother-in-law. And to lose him so suddenly, with so little warning, to a heart attack when he'd always been so healthy, so fit!

Small wonder she sat silent and white-faced in the imperial box, clinging to her husband's hand with one hand and crushing a tear-soaked handkerchief in the other.

"Hear now the words of Chihiro, from the second Book of Chihiro, in the third chapter," Staynair continued.

"'Out of the deep have I called unto you, O Lord; hear my voice. 'O let your ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If you, Lord, will be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with you; therefore will you be feared. I look for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my trust. My soul flees on to the Lord before the morning watch; I say, before the morning watch. O Safehold, trust in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Safehold from all the sins of the Fallen.'"

The archbishop looked up from the gem-encrusted volume before him and closed it gently. He gazed out across the cathedral, and his expression was sad despite the serenity of his own faith.

"My children," he said, "our brother Ruhsail lived his life in fearless faith and worshipful obedience to the Law we have all been taught. He was, as I can tell you of my own sure and certain knowledge, a faithful servant of Langhorne and of God. I have never known a man of whose integrity, whose honesty and strength of spirit, I was more positive, and it has been one of the deep and abiding honors of my life to have known him and to have called him friend, as well as brother in God. We are gathered today not to mourn his death, but to celebrate his life, and so I ask you now to join with me, and with our beloved Empress, as we say farewell to the mortal shell of one who was, and is, and always will be alive in our hearts and a faithful servant unto God.

"Let us pray."

* * * * * * * * * *

Ruhsail Thairis opened his eyes.

For a moment, he simply lay there on a padded surface that was almost unbelievably comfortable, staring up at a smooth, polished stone ceiling he'd never seen before. Then his nostrils flared, he inhaled deeply and explosively, and jerked into a sitting position on the bed.

"Hello, Ruhsail," a voice he'd never heard before said, and his head whipped around and his eyes went wide as he saw a very tall woman — at least six inches taller than he was — in a black and gold uniform unlike any he'd ever seen before. He stared at her, and then his jaw clenched as he recognized those sapphire eyes.

"I know you believe 'Merlin' is a demon," the woman said in that same contralto, and as he listened to it he heard an eerie echo of Merlin's deep voice. "He's not. Neither am I. But this is who I was born to be, so if I'm going to tell you the truth and you'll ever believe me, I thought I should introduce you to Nimue."

"It doesn't change anything," he said harshly.

"Probably not." The woman smiled sadly. "But I have to try, Ruhsail. I have to try because of how much Sharley and Cayleb love you and because of how much you mean to me. And because whether you believe me or not, everything I've told you is true and I know you're a man who believes in the difference between truth and lies."

"You're right, I do. And that's why nothing you can say to me will change the truth I already know. I don't know why I'm still alive or why you've brought me to this place." He waved one hand in a choppy gesture. "I suppose this is the 'Nimue's Cave' the three of you were talking about."

"Yes, it is."

"Then I don't know why you've brought me here, because it won't make any difference in the end."

"Maybe not, but I've got to try."

The woman — Nimue Alban — stepped closer to him, and he made himself stand motionless, not shrinking away from her, as she pressed a button set into the wall. The entire end of the chamber disappeared and he found himself looking out over a vast cavern crowded with shapes and . . . things the likes of which he'd never seen before.

"These are the tools Shan-wei left me," she said steadily. "And if you genuinely think I'm a demon and if I can't convince you otherwise, then I'm sure you'll simply write them off as more of her 'demonic' inventions. But I'd like to show them to you, like to give you a chance to see what they truly are. And I'd like to open the archives to you, let you compare the written record of Safehold's history to the other records here in the Cave. You aren't the only person we've told about this who's had trouble accepting it, but most of them eventually recognized we'd told them only the truth and learned to handle it. I truly hope — wish — you can do the same."

"No," he said flatly.

"Ruhsail, please." There were tears in her eyes, he realized, and despite himself he wavered before the pleading in her voice. "We love you. We need you. Just . . . just open your mind a tiny crack, to the possibility that we're telling you the truth."

"And the crack will become a leak, and the leak will become a torrent, and before I know it, my soul will've drowned in the tide of your lies, just like Sharleyan's and Cayleb's." He shook his head firmly, fiercely. "No. I'll die before I do that, Nimue or Merlin or whatever you are. Do your worst."

"That's what the lie you cling to does, Ruhsail, not us!" For the first time those sapphire eyes flashed angrily. "We've never tortured, or maimed, or killed in God's name! Not like the lie you believe in!"

For an instant, he wavered, but then he stiffened his knees.

"No, you haven't. But then again, every single person who died in the Jihad died because of the war you started."

"Bullshit!" Nimue Alban snapped, her eyes glittering. "Whatever else you may believe, Ruhsail, you damned well know better than that! Zhaspahr Clyntahn started that killing, those murders, long before anyone in Zion could possibly know a thing about me. All I did was prevent him from slaughtering his way clear across Charis and then, eventually, starting in on Chisholm because you didn't share his perverted view of what God wanted, either!"

"And how do I know how long you and Shan-wei have been working on this? Whether or not you're the ones who turned Clyntahn that direction in the first place?!" Eastshare demanded. There was a defensive edge in his voice — he heard it himself — but he shook his head angrily. "You say Clyntahn was already launched against Charis. Maybe that was because God had told him something the rest of us didn't know. I'm not defending Zhaspahr Clyntahn! The man was a monster. But even monsters can be used to do God's will."

"And God chose someone like Zhaspahr Clyntahn instead of someone like Merlin Athrawes . . . or Sharleyan Tayt Ahrmahk?" Nimue asked in a soft, deadly tone.

"It's not my job to tell God who to choose. It's my job to believe what He and His Archangels taught me as His Law! The fact that Zhaspahr Clyntahn and the Group of Four twisted Mother Church into something she wasn't supposed to be doesn't mean God gave you free rein to simply destroy Her forever! Cayleb and Sharleyan only wanted to repair what was wrong, the evil men had allowed to creep in. But you! You came along and twisted their devotion, their dedication to purging Mother Church, into something totally different."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," she said quietly. "I'm sorrier than I can ever say. But whatever you may think of me, whatever you may think of the truth I'm trying to tell you, I can't and I won't harm you, Ruhsail. I'm sorry if you want to die a martyr, but I'm not much into making martyrs and, to be honest, I don't think God really wants any more of them. Even Zhaspahr Clyntahn's God has to've had a bellyful of that here on Safehold. So I will be damned if I give Him one more death than I absolutely have to, and I'll never give Him yours."

"You don't have a choice." His voice was ribbed in iron. "I'll never change my mind, never renounce God and the Archangels. And I won't pretend otherwise. I will fight you, Merlin. Nimue. I'll fight you with every breath of my life. So sooner or later, you will have to kill me."

"No," she said. "I won't. I can't ever let you go home again — or not until we've settled accounts, one way or the other, with Langhorne and Bédard and their lies. I hate that, because I know how much Zhilyahn and Zohzet and Zohzef and Alahnah are all going to miss you. But I can't. That doesn't mean I have to kill you, though, and I won't. Even if Cayleb and Sharleyan would — and you know, deep inside, that they wouldn't agree to that in a million years if there was a single viable option — I won't. Me, the one you think is Shan-wei's own demon. I can't." She shook her head. "I've killed so many people, Ruhsail. And a lot of them were good people, people who believed exactly what you believe, but if I hadn't killed them, other good people would have died . . . and the truth would have died with them. Nimue Alban died a thousand years ago to see that that never happened, and I won't let it. But I weep inside for every one of those people, and I won't — I will not — weep for you, Ruhsail Thairis. Not that way."

He looked at her, and despite himself, despite his steel-spined faith, he sensed the sincerity in her voice. Yet —

"Maybe you really feel that way. And maybe I should encourage you to. But if you do, it will be the worst mistake you've ever made."

"We'll see." She smiled sadly. "Ultimately, the decision's up to you, but what I would prefer to do is to make you a . . . prisoner of state. We can keep you confined here in the Cave indefinitely, Thairis, and not in some filthy cell in a cellar somewhere. You'll be able to communicate freely with Cayleb and Sharleyan — any member of the inner circle, really — and you'll have complete freedom of Owl's library files. The one thing you won't be able to do is go home again, and unless we tell Zhilyahn the truth, you won't be able to speak to her or your children. And to be honest, we don't tell anyone unless we think we have to because every time we do, we put that person in the same position we've just put you in. So we think about it — hard — every time."

"No." He shook his head. "I believe that's what you want to do, and I'm not going to accept your offer. All I have to do is look around me to see how hellishly convincing you and all of this 'Cave' of yours can be. Hell, for all I know you are completely sincere! Maybe you're not Shan-wei's knowing servant but her dupe. I don't know about that. Listening to you, hearing you, you're either the greatest actor ever born or telling the truth as you know it. But it isn't the truth, Merlin, and I'm not giving you the chance to dupe me, as well. No prisoners of state, no libraries, no more 'convincing.' So you're going to have to do something else with me, and at least I know that whatever else you are, you aren't Zhaspahr Clyntahn. So I'm pretty sure it'll at least be quick."

He met her eyes fearlessly, and her nostrils flared.

"And that's your last word, isn't it?" she said sadly. "Damn you, Ruhsail! Why couldn't you have at least an ounce of give in your integrity? Do you have any idea how much I'm going to miss you?"

"I am who I am, and in the end, I am a son of Mother Church," he said. "I can't — I won't — be anyone or anything else. Not for you. Not even for Sharley . . . or Zhilyahn and the kids. So get it over with."

"If you insist. But I'm still not going to kill you. I'm not sure that wouldn't be kinder in the long run, but I can't do that."

"Then do whatever it is you are going to do," he said harshly. But then his voice gentled. "And tell Sharley she has my love."

* * * * * * * * * *

"He wouldn't even listen?"

"No, Sharleyan," Merlin Athrawes replied over the com. He could hear the tears in her voice, but there wasn't any surprise. Not really. "You know Ruhsail. He'd made his decision."

"Oh, I wish he hadn't," she half-whispered. "But then he wouldn't have been the man he is, would he?"

"No."

Merlin stood with one hand on the bronze-sheened, coffin-shaped cryo unit. It was featureless, aside from a small panel of brightly lit LEDs.

"The procedure went smoothly?" Cayleb asked.

"Yes." Merlin patted the cryo unit. "And he never hesitated. I don't know if he really believed I wasn't going to kill him, but he looked me straight in the eye and said goodbye before the first injection. And he told me to tell you both that he loved you."

"Oh, Ruhsail." This time the tears had escaped her voice, running down her cheeks while Cayleb's arms enfolded her. "Oh, Ruhsail, I'm so sorry."

There was silence for a very long time, and then Cayleb cleared his throat.

"Will you be home in time for that council meeting tomorrow, Merlin?"

"No," Merlin said, and knew they could hear the unshed tears in his voice. "No. I'll be staying here to say goodbye to my friend for a little longer, Cayleb."











August
Year of God 903






.I.
Show-wan Hills
Tiegelkamp Province
North Harchong


The gunshot came with no warning.

It also didn't hit anything.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by Fireflair   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:04 pm

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Captain of the List

Posts: 503
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Woot! Woot! Hazzah for the snippet! And for the snippet-er!
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by jeremyr   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:05 pm

jeremyr
Lieutenant Commander

Posts: 141
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Location: Corinth, TX

Thanks!!!
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by bigrunt   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:13 pm

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Lieutenant Commander

Posts: 102
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:34 pm
Location: St Augustine FL

Thank you very much RFC. While I like the fact that Baen allows us to buy advanced reader copies I can wait for January.
___________________________________________________________
I am the runt of the litter (Granted it was a litter of really big pups)
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by Eagleeye   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:35 pm

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Posts: 690
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 3:41 am
Location: Halle/Saale, Germany

Thank you for the snippet, RFC, even if it's a very sad one ... I wonder if we'll see Ruhsail again at a later time, but still in this book?
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by ywing14   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:36 pm

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Posts: 366
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Great Snippet!
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by thanatos   » Thu Jul 19, 2018 11:21 pm

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Captain (Junior Grade)

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Finally another one! I was really starting to get worried.
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by elaineofshalott   » Fri Jul 20, 2018 3:57 am

elaineofshalott
Lieutenant (Junior Grade)

Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Jun 12, 2014 3:43 pm

So we have our first person the inner circle informs who completely rejects the truth. At least since Merlin woke up.

It had to happen some time.
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by isaac_newton   » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:47 am

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YaY :-)

Glad to see you back too!
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Re: TFT snippet #3
Post by Undercover Fat Kid   » Fri Jul 20, 2018 7:36 am

Undercover Fat Kid
Commander

Posts: 192
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Awesome sauce!
.
.
Death is as a feather,
Duty is as a mountain
This life is a dream
From which we all
Must wake
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