• Michal

A Leap of Faith

After being violently blinded, Bergoh meets Viletto, and learns that not everyone is against him.

 

Bergoh feels the pressure hit his back as the door clicks shut behind him. Questions flicker through his mind—where is he? Why is it so quiet, so still? What does it look like here? Is this real, or is he still in that nightmare, in that horrible place within the resort, and this is just a terrible punishment?


Why can't I see?


Even though he knows the answer, it does nothing to stop the question from surfacing from his subconscious. From when he woke up until now, it's been screaming intermittently in his mind, suddenly and without warning. Suddenly he forgets that his eyesight is gone, and as soon as everything goes black then his breath catches and his heart races and suddenly he's back in that room with the burning moon and all he wants is for everything to be over. He's done some horrible shit, that’s clear to him, but never in a million years would he think that anyone deserved this.


His attention turns to the hands that have guided him into this room, place, whatever. (Well, “guided” paints them too kind a picture. “Guided” doesn’t cover being yanked a million miles into the air without any warning.) He can't see his current captor, but he thinks he has a vague picture in his mind. Male, he can tell from the voice, and young. Younger than him, probably. He said something in Rixh before they jumped, but plenty of people speak it, it doesn't mean that he's Rixh. He only felt two hands holding him up.


Maybe it's a trap. He could be Pelyle, you know. Maybe this is another one of Palmeria's visions, and any second now you're going to wake up and be there again.


How do I fight someone I can’t see?


His throat tightens at the thought. Maybe this person is just tricking him, luring him into a false sense of security just to drag him back down into hell. And Bergoh can’t even defend himself. Not like this.


"You can open your eyes," his guide suddenly says. "It's pitch black in here, I made sure it's like that if I turn off the lights. Though—er, I guess it doesn't matter. It's up to you."


He flinches despite himself as the hands that led him here land on his shoulders and slide down his forearms. For a second, terror pulses in his veins—and then he realizes that the hands aren't doing anything. They're just...holding. Gently. He can barely feel them.


"Relax," the voice says tersely. "You're safe here."


He doesn't believe that. He doesn't believe it at all. That's exactly what a Pelyle would say—hold him gently, tell him he's safe, before tearing his mind apart from the inside out.


Bergoh's back hands fumble for the door behind him, but he can't reach it. He doesn't even know where it is, how many steps away, if there’s anything to use in a fight here, if his captor is armed. Fuck, he feels so helpless! Bergoh can't tell if he should feel angry or terrified, all he knows is that he wants to get out. This was a mistake. Now he's alone with someone who could just be here to torment him.


Why did you let him bring you here? What are you doing?


What's wrong with you?


He can’t waste time in a place he doesn’t know. He made a promise to himself that he’d find a way to get Dizho back. Being here is a waste of time.


Bergoh tries to pull away but the hands get tighter on his and awkwardly pull him a little forward.


"Hey." The voice gets harder, and something happens in Bergoh's chest that forces him to listen. It's from in front of him—and he can feel the intensity in the voice. The guy is looking at him. "I can see your face, you know, I can tell you're freaking out. You're. Fine. Okay?”


Is he, though? Is he really?


Bergoh settles for not answering.


The hands thankfully release him. “...I’ll take that as the obvious answer. I’m gonna get you an actual bandanna now, okay? Must be weird without one. I know it took me a while to switch from the… You know what? This is probably faster.”


There’s no point in saying anything. Instead he waits nervously for—there it is. The feeling of hands fastening something behind his head, tying a knot with the practice of hands that have done it many times before. Bergoh’s eyes snap open in surprise at the feeling, and panic takes control for a second before he realizes that nothing has changed. That he still can’t see anything.


“Aaaand, that should do it! It’s purple, by the way. Not the…worst color on you, actually. This one’s kinda special to me, but you can give it back later, okay?”


Bergoh isn’t sure what to say. There are too many weird thoughts raised by the stranger’s words. As if he cares what color “works” on him, or as if he owes this man anything for his kindness.


So Bergoh says nothing. The silence stretches for a few moments, before he hears the man exhale tersely. “Nothing, huh? Neo below. Who did this to you?"


Bergoh can't bring himself to answer. What is he asking? Is it who blinded him? Or is it why he won’t answer? He doesn't want to answer either question. He doesn’t want to be wearing this stupid stranger’s bandanna, doesn’t have time for this, doesn’t want to be here.


He hears a sigh. "You're scared. I get it, dude. You can't see, and it’s fucking you up. I know how it feels—I’m blind too, in my left eye. Here, let me show you."


Before Bergoh can process anything he's just heard, his hands are pulled upwards, and suddenly his fingers are pressed against warm skin, rough and immediately recognizable. Rock. He is Rixh.


The man lets go of his hands but doesn't move, leaving Bergoh's fingers there against his face—and for some reason every urge that would normally tell Bergoh to rip his hands away instead freezes him in his tracks. There's a weird feeling in his chest again, one that he recognizes. For an instant, being blind doesn't feel like the end of the world, because he can feel this person, and for just that instant, that feels like enough.


This would be too much effort to fake, right?


"Hardened clay—that's the color and texture, anyway. It's only a little duller in color than yours. You won't hurt me," the man assures. Bergoh can feel the vibrations of his voice when he talks.


Bergoh's mind races, but his fingers move in slow-motion as he tediously, painfully moves his fingers over to his right—this man's left. He stops suddenly when he passes over a ridge of torn rock, jagged and destroyed. A scar. A chasm carved into his face, permanently.


"Yup. Yeah, that's the one," the guy says tightly. "Go up."


Bergoh glances in the vague direction of the voice and then slowly moves his fingers up along the scar until he—oh. The scar goes over his eye. Completely, cracking through it. He can't imagine how that must've felt. Well, he can. Which almost makes it worse.


He's like me.


"...Can—" Bergoh wets his lips, surprised by how weak his voice is. "Can I—"


"Of course. Here, I'll help."


The hands grab hold of Bergoh's again and slowly guide him over the geography of this man's face. As he guides him, the man describes what it is he's feeling, and Bergoh patiently tries to memorize every valley and peak to piece together the shape in his mind. Slowly, an image takes form. Clay skin. Small eyes. Button nose. Thick eyebrows—obsidian, apparently. When his fingers brush over the surface of the man's face and stumble across his hair, he finds himself almost getting lost in his thick curls that twirl around his grasp. Bergoh hasn't had hair that thick since before the Melee. It's black, supposedly. Obsidian with amethyst on the edges.


Bit by bit, the image takes a tentative form. After what feels like an eternity, Bergoh pulls away slowly, and he can hear the other guy shuffling around in front of him. "So...yeah. That’s that. You don't have to worry about me not...y'know. Understanding what you're going thr—"


"Why did you bring me here?" Bergoh blurts out.


There's silence for a second. Then there’s a sigh, a more tired one. "Because I… Okay, that’s a loaded question. I just needed to talk to you, try and explain what’s going on. Or maybe I guess seeing your eyes burned to Neo and back reminded me of some shit? It’s complicated but I’ll do my best to explain. And hey, if you don't want to talk to me, that's fine, but—"


The words are out of Bergoh’s mouth before he can stop them.


"It was Palmeria."


Look up.


Panic flashes in his mind and he violently shoves it back down, turning his head to glare in the general direction of his toes. "She forced me to take off my bandanna. I-I couldn't...I couldn’t do anything about it."


He falls into silence. Admitting his weakness like this feels mortifying, but there’s no other way to parse it. Palmeria was stronger than him.


Then he feels a hand gently ease onto his shoulder. Normally, it would take every ounce of restraint in Bergoh’s body to stop him from punching this guy in the face, but for some reason, Bergoh is frozen.


"I’m not surprised. You made some shitty decisions to get you to Daytoni, sure, but hurting someone like that just to make them suffer is horrible. I’m sorry, Bergoh—I wish I could've been there to help."


The mention of Daytoni brings reality to the moment, and Bergoh’s instincts kick back in. He slaps the hand away with probably more force than necessary. "You’re—sorry? What could you have done?" he asks—bitterness creeps into his voice before he can stop it and it sounds more like an accusation than a question.


The man scoffs, seemingly unfazed. "More than you think, way more than you know.”


Bergoh’s eyes narrow. “...That’s the most cryptic bullshit I’ve ever heard.”


“Heh…yeah. I’m workin' on it. People keep telling me to shut up if I get too dramatic."


There's a long silence after that, so long and so deep that Bergoh wonders if this is the part where this man turns on him.


Then the man sighs. He does that a lot.


"I...uh, so, I've been dodging this because I don't know how you'll react, but I guess we’re just gonna dive right in? I mean, if I don’t, I’ll flounder forever and never get to the point, and that’s just no good for anyone involved. So you know how Aranacia had you looking for the leader of a specific resistance cell over the last ten years?"


Bergoh's breath catches and he looks up slightly. "How did you—"


"My name is Viletto. I run the Long Eight resistance group that’s trying to destroy Deal magic, and for the past ten years, you've been looking for me."


There’s a moment of silence. Bergoh waits for the punchline.


It doesn’t come.


“That’s impossible.” Bergoh says.


“Uh.” He hasn’t known this guy for more than a few minutes, but it’s pretty easy to tell that he sounds offended. “You think I’m lying?”


“No,” he replies, matter of fact. He thinks back to his decade of service to Aranacia, if it could even be called that—hunting down some shadowy organization that always seemed to slip through his fingers. Every time he’d finally pin something down, make a connection, every lead would suddenly shuffle. Rearranged in instants, starting the endeavor over from scratch. The amount of skill required to evade a concentrated pursuer for a decade, the frustration he’s had to deal with, simply doesn’t match this…’Viletto’ character. “It’s just impossible. How old are you?”


“Pf-what?” The man—Viletto—has at least the decency to stammer. “Wait, that’s what has you confused? I-I don’t see what that has to do with anything—“


“How. Old.”


“Um, my 66th just passed a few weeks back?”


“So you would have been, what, 56 when I started hunting…you?”


A beat. The following mumble is pathetic.


“Technically, only 55…”


Bergoh barks out a laugh, his fists clenching beside him. He’s hardly a seasoned fighter—fuck, he’s barely an adult. Fucking spectacular. This touchy-feely freak is claiming that Bergoh’s been chasing him like a lost puppy for a decade.


“You’re kidding me.”


“What’s so funny?” Viletto demands.


“Who put you up to this? Is this another one of Aranacia’s pranks?”


“Wai—“


“‘Cuz I’ve had enough of her shit,” he snaps, not letting Viletto finish. “What, was a decade of sending me futilely after a moving target not enough for her, she needed to drag some fucking actor and the Champions into it too!?” A thought occurs to him. “No, no this isn’t Aranacia. This is too well thought out for that bitch, and those idiots who fought me aren’t hers. You’re working for Palmeria.” The name leaves his tongue like a curse. “Refusing me as a Champion and taking my eyesight wasn’t enough for her either, so she sends her new, improved Champions to bring me to someone who…what? Claims that I’ve wasted the past decade of my life looking for him? Tries to convince me that he’s just like me and…and lets me…”


Bergoh falters. He can’t think of a way to describe the interactions of the past few minutes without getting extremely uncomfortable, which is a…new sensation for him. That, more than anything since he was blinded, felt real, and he hates that.


It can’t be real. Because if this guy is really who Aranacia’d sent him on a chase after, then that’s proof that Bergoh just wasn’t good enough to cut it. That this guy, claiming some mission to destroy “Deal magic”, whatever the fuck that is, has managed to elude him for a decade. The insult to injury of Viletto being nothing like what Bergoh expected his target to be is just icing on the cake of implausibility. It’s just another person he’s been bested by.


He picks up steam again, but even he can hear that his vitriol is waning. “You’re a fraud. Just here to get in my way, like everyone else.”


An awkward silence settles over the room. Bergoh doesn’t move, but internally he’s attempting to case the room for any exits—a significantly harder job without his eyesight. This is fucking ridiculous. He’s wasted enough time humoring Viletto as it is.


“Er…” Viletto coughs awkwardly, as if trying to diffuse the tension. “Well, for what it’s worth, you didn’t really waste that decade. I mean, you got really close—scary close. You got so close that it wasn’t enough to send spies to keep us aware of your progress. I had to actively start tailing you about a year in, run damage control. And you almost caught me a couple times before Punk and I figured out your tells. Fun fact, by the way, you never check the trees.”


That’s an eerily specific thing for this guy to know—Bergoh’s got a significant number of arrow scars that can attest to that weakness.


Viletto continues, seemingly spurred on by the silence. “I did some research, figured after a while you didn’t grow up in a wooded area, traced that back to Lair Town and, well. I guess your story kind of piqued my interest.”


“My story,” he echoes bitterly. “What about my ‘story’ could possibly pique the interest of a supposed ‘resistance leader’?”


“Your sister.”


Bergoh tenses.


There’s a sound of papers shuffling, and then the thud of someone sitting down.


“Look,” Viletto sighs. “If I’m completely honest, you’ve been on our radar since she passed away. After the, er, incident in Rembrant, the whole network of resistance folks has been super wary of any mention of necromancy. And then a disgraced clanless Rixh begins asking everyone West of the border to revive his sister. Burke insisted we stop you before you got too far, but…well, you’re not like Ivers. I didn’t see you needlessly resurrecting people for your own amusement. You’re just trying to right a wrong, to save someone who deserved to be saved.


“And then you went for the Melee. I realized it could be a good opportunity to talk to you, try and figure out where your loyalties lie, maybe get the inside scoop on Deal we really need—and then Aranacia snatched you up, so of course Burke was all, ‘hurr dur, no, he’s already dangerous and now he’s connected directly to Aranacia, this is a terrible idea, you do it and you’re grounded for life’, and then you started actively hunting us and I realized he might have been onto something. So rather than try and recruit you, I just sort of…followed you? Er, that makes me sound like a stalker, I promise it’s not as weird as it sounds. I just—I can’t let Aranacia find me again, there’s too much at stake. We’ve been working on this for fifty years, and—”


“Fifty years? Again, you were a fucking child when you claim this resistance of yours started. You’re lying. I haven’t been wasting my time on a child,” Bergoh spits.


“On a…” Viletto falls silent. Bergoh hates that he can’t see him right now, can’t read his expression. He’s not good at reading people anyway, but not being able to try is making him angrier than usual.


“What?” he finally snaps. “Fucking humor me. Give me a single fucking reason to believe anything you’re saying.”


“Did…” Viletto audibly swallows, voice small. “Did she really not tell you about me?”


Something in the tone of his voice gives Bergoh pause. He was expecting something else—either something that would fully convince him, or something that would give him all the reason needed to snap Viletto’s neck. Bergoh wasn’t expecting Viletto to sound so unsure.


Viletto draws in a shaky breath. “Ok, I think I can convince you. Maybe. I just need you to answer a question. Who did Aranacia send you after? Like, what was her exact mission for you?”


“…I don’t have to tell you that.”


“Humor me,” Viletto mimics dryly.


Bergoh tries not to let his annoyance show as he grits out, “She told me that there was a resistance cell somewhere in Oterro that was plotting to overthrow Rixh Rock, raze it to the ground. That the leader was a cunning and ruthless strategist. A killer. She made it seem like they were a problem ‘cuz he made her look like she wasn’t so bad.”


A scoff. “Raxhi’s tits, she fucking would. Anyway, was that it?”


“No. She told me I was supposed to find this guy and make him regret ever crossing her.”


“A specific person, then. Did she tell you a name?”


“Yeah.”


“What was it?”


“It was—“


Bergoh stops.


What was the name?


There’s a sound of someone jumping to their feet. “There! Right there. That look on your face.”


“I’m not making a—”


“No, you totally are. I know that look. You don’t remember the name itself, but you know she told you, right? It’s a fallacy in your memory, happens all the time with Deal. Palmeria’s Revisions typically have a softer touch, but ‘Nacia’s are sharp and messy—easier to break. Come on, Bergoh, tell me the name.”


“I-I…” His brow furrows in frustration, because Viletto’s exactly right. He knows that she said it. He remembers their monthly briefings, her sitting at a table with her boots up on it and picking at her teeth with a dagger. Remembers her asking for progress on the leader, handing over any leads she might have, then sarcastically wishing him good luck in finding…someone. But who was it?? Why can’t he remember the name?


“It’s—ah!” A burst of pain lances through his skull, and he shakes his head futilely, as if it will somehow fix the issue. There’s a gap in his memory—a repeated one, every time he can SWEAR Aranacia mentioned the leader by name. The discrepancy in his own mind is quickly sending him into a panic—he’s supposed to know this stuff. He’s known it for ten years, why doesn’t he know it now? Where did it go? Why is it hurting to remember? “I-I know it. I know I know it, I know she told me!? It’s—”


A memory stirs.


“Alright, Champ—“


“Don’t call me that.”


“Fine. Alright, Asshat, got your first mission right here.”


“…the fuck is this?”


“Your mission.”


“A piece of paper.”


“A word on a piece of paper. Fucking hell, you do know how to read, right?”


“Of course I can read. Just, what kind of name is A̷̻̒̈́͂̌̉͆̉̌̾͆̚r̴̠͕̲̲̤̯̭͍̦̩̘͗͑͛͊̉̓̈́͂̄̍̊͜a̴̧̫̯̦̲̰̪͇̹̯̼͑͂͑̉͐̈́̀͘̕͘c̶̨͍̦̲͔̺̣̼̩̀̉̓͐͗̇̂̈́͋̏͜h̵͇̗̗̼͇̹͓̦̉̀̔̓͆͂͐ͅā̵̻̲͚͉̏̋̃̌?”


“A̷̻̒̈́͂̌̉͆̉̌̾͆̚-Aracha?” Bergoh croaks, the word sending another wave of nausea through his head. “No, n-no, that’s not it. The fuck is… What…”


He stumbles, but Viletto is ready, and Bergoh feels himself guided to a seat somewhere behind him by Viletto’s hands, and then they rest on his shoulders, a sturdy support. “It’s here. It’s where you are right now, this hidden city. Aracha. Come on man, you can break it—like you said, you’ve been dealing with her shit long enough! You’re in a Tax Evasion field right now, if you break through, it should stick. What was the name?”


“It was—“


“Aracha. That’s the name of the place you’re looking for.”


“I thought you said you wanted me to find a person.”


“Well, if you find it, you find him. Look, Champ, if you’re not up for a challenge there’s always the big ol’ reset button in the sky—“


“You bitch, you know perfectly well I don’t have a choice. Just give me the fucking name.”


“V̴̧̧̡̧̗̙̺̼̝͈̱̼͇̜͓̰̺̟̣̠̫̜̜̟͇͙͇͈̦͓̥͙͎̖̼̫̩̺͈̈̂̿͑̊̉̈́̇̊̑̇̈́̌͛͑̋̋̓̇͛̕͘͘͝͝i̴̡͓͖̥͎͚͈̭̰̦͇̠̊̄́́̎̇̀͛̀̂̌̆̀͂̚͘͜͜͠͝l̶̛͎̳̳͌́̉̂͊̀̈́̇͛ḙ̶̛͕̻̲͓̱̲͒̽̏͆̌̑͆͛͊̃̄̎̅̈́͆͛̀̆͌̈́̆̐̽̾̆̐̀̃̉̎͊̓̓̈̅͋̕̕̕̚͠ţ̴̧̡̧̧̦̹̲̻̯͖̻̤͔͕͙͚͙̫̲̼̲̮̬̞͚̞̗̩̩̫͉̯̗͈̤̭̼͖̻͓̆̎́̈́̒̆̃̉̀̕͜͜͝͝t̴̡̛̛̼͈̺̗̣̲͓͓̿̾̂͒͂͑͗̇͂̒̓͗͌̿͌͋̓̔̚͝͝͝o̴̡̧̖̪͔̭̥̓̉ͅ.”


“…What?”


“Did you not hear me?”


“N-no, I…I did, I just…”


“ V̷̟̱̣̙̣̈̐͋̒̈́̈́̾̂̃̈̊̚į̵̡͉͇̘̯̘͎̈́̄͛̂̔̆̄͝l̴̨̨͍̲̝̤͓̺̰̪͈̗̼̉̏͆́ë̷̗̟̲̟́́̀̚t̶̡͎͍̖̍̑͂̾̅̋t̴̼̩̲̹̲̮̞̻̎͜͜͜ơ̷͍͇̹̗͉͉̖͉̥͔͉̯̬̰̏̇́̾̾̿̀̔̇̿͠.̶̺͔͈͚̹̩̲͇͌̍̓͛̏̎̑͘ ̷̨̺͎̖̭̼͖͝V̷̨̱͙͓̠̦̥̎̇͂i̷̳̠̗̰̒͋̉͆͆̒́͋̔̾̂̀̊͝ļ̵̡̧͚͓̯̫̯̖͓͍͈̾̄͑̍ͅê̴̢̟̰̩̮͕̬̫̘͖̤̔́̆̑̄͑͗̃̕ͅt̵̨̥̖̗̗̳̞̬͈̾͂̐͛̋̽̽̈̊̕t̶͔̲͒̀͊̓͘͝ồ̸̡̻̣͍̰̙̹͖̦̬̟̗͎̼͊̒̔͠͝,̸̙̙̎͊͜ ̴̢̰̣̩̤̲̩̮̦̯͙͕͛̅̎V̷̛̛̬̣͇͇̬̥̣͓̥͓̉́̈́͜i̵̧̤͔̠̤̪̜̺͚͊̅͐̐̇̊́ͅļ̸̨̡̟͕̥͓̙̗͈̤̹̌́͆́͂͒́͛͒̍̓͝ẻ̴̯̀̌͌̔̌̍ţ̵̨̛̦̬̘̥̥̹̱̗̈́̈͐͊͐́t̶̺̤̣̙̗̯̘̰̹̘̫̿͑͌o̶̠̠̰͍̦̼͎̮̰̦̯̱̐̀͊̀͛͊̽̋̓̾̈͂̕͠ͅ ̴̧̣̫̺̍͗̓͒̆͘̕V̵̭͔̭̪̗͑ḯ̵̡̢̡̗͉̯̩̞͍̩̖̱̈́̀̉̐́͌͜l̸̛̤͍̦̰̯̲͋͌͊̚̚͝ë̷͔̤̰̠̌̉̈́̈̔ẗ̷̡̬̖̙̼̣̪̮̦̥́̈̆͒̊̐̊͌̈́͆̔̕̚͝ͅt̸̢̢̠̠̻̺̻̥͙̟̹̞͚̓͂̀̇͒̏̇̚͠͠ơ̵̤̫̾̂̃̉͘.̶̨̜̺̬͙͎͖͔̫̮͕͋̄̍̀͛͗̈́͌̀̈́͗ͅ ̵̨̨͕̜͔͇̘̞̤͕̠͚͌̋̍͗̉̽̒̽͒̏̀͂̾͜͝ͅỴ̷͖̬̳͋̊̆͆̇̌̈́͂̾̐̕̚͜ȍ̸̟͈̜͕͚͓͋͗͒̓͛̀ų̵̛̺̬̗͎̲̺͕̝̈̔ ̵̢̳͇̤͍̟̰̅͌̕͜͠ͅh̵̡̪͔͔͕̭̍̆̓͗͜e̵̢̦̟̳̦̹͎̯͖̠͉͕̽̋̓́̉̿̎̍̂ȧ̶͕̝̳̬̦̱̥̞̯̟͑̆͝ͅr̶̞̝̰̱̜̳̞̘̼̥̫̊̇̋̃͆̓̕͠͝ ̸̢̨͎̜̤̜̩̣̯̒͌̃̋̇̒̅̊̄i̸̡̛͙͈̬̙̻͎̦̍̒͗̇̎́̋͒̀͌͘̚͝t̴̹̞͔̂͒͋̓͐̿̏̊͘͠͠ͅ ̷̢̹͍̝̘͎̳̃̓̎͐͒̒̚͘̚͠͝ͅͅt̶̡̧̥̩̟͓̞̘͈̗̤͇̗͑͊̓̆͗͊͑̂͘͠h̵͔̟̜̼̠͉̬̥͌͊̈̃̌̓͑͘̕͘̕͠ǎ̶̻̱̫̠̻̜̻̦̫͇͉͔̟̄̾́́̌̉̀̓͗ͅt̵̰̬̝̪̙̗͖̝̘̝̄́̚̕ ̴̛͓͖̬̞̳̳̠̥̔͐̽͝t̸͙̂̎̆͗̀̾͊̇̔̒̕i̶̡̢̨̭̻͇̱̤̓m̸̬̩̼̄̀̑̅͑̈́͝ȩ̷̛͚͙̟̝̪̿̇̀͐̉͘̚͝?̴̨̨̢̬̲̳͖͓͈̱͙̬̄̓̄͗̊̈̈̾̐̉͒͝ͅ ̵̨̛̣͈̤̝̦̰̞̩̯̄͊͋̄Ö̸̧̭̗͍̈̎͗͝f̷̮͛͆̀ ̵̢̛̝͌̅̓ć̷͙̣̇̍̔͒̈́́͐̀͠͝͝o̵̤̅̈́̍̾̽̍̊̔̌͗́̑̍͘ů̷̧̺̖̼̩̻̩̲̭̼͍͈̾̃͋̚͠r̷̛͔̹͙̳̤̝̙̎̈́͐̓̄̔̓͘s̷̢̥͙̯͓̖̞̬͖͈̦̉̌͐͐͋̅e̸̹̫̗͍̳͖͍̥͍͎̯̞̜͛̉̀̒͘͝ ̵̢͔̜̲̗͌̏̎͗̈́̈́͗̃́́̚̕͘n̵͓̖̟̄̽̓͊̾̄͝ơ̴̯͕̒̌̄́͝t̸̼̳͉͒̑̆̈́̋̐̇̑̕.̵̛̟̰̦̣̽̆̃͂̉̇̈͘̕͠ ̸̱͈͍̆̑̀͗̄̓͊̎̊̃̚T̷͙͉̯͖̜̠̗̼̖͚̀̊́͆̈́̋̃̿̌͑h̸̙̳͉̙͈̮͚̮̭̟͈̿̈́ę̸̧̛̗͙̲̣̭̝̘̀̔͌̚̚̚ÿ̵̼͇̯͓͉͉́̈́͊̃̉̍̌͑͗̚ͅͅ ̶̭̱͉̻͇͕̗̺̳͓̜͛̕̕ň̶̡̨̛̲̳̫̫̞̲̗̪̰̼͗͆̃͗̐ē̸͈̻̍v̶̭͎̽̓̌̾͆͆̅̈̚͠ȩ̵̧̱̩̰̬͇͉̰̳͐ṙ̷̼͈̮̳̣̜͉͚̺̪̜̘̟̭̆̅͋̈́̆͗͗̑̕ ̵̡̼̹̩͎͓͇̘̝̳̖͔͎͑͆̈́͐̚̚͝͝ͅd̶̢̢̛͇̤̱͍͙͊̌̏̓̀̋̀̀̅̕̕͠͝ó̶͙̟̺̻̬̝̽̃͗̉͝.̴̫͔̩̱̰̼̖̯͉̩̼̮̣̇̑͆̑̆̎̎̊̓͑̕͝͝͠ͅ ̴̥̯̗͕̊̓̾͌̌͛͂͒̏̏͝ͅĮ̶̛͇̟̳͕̳͓̠̾̑̆͂͗̓̉͜͝͠͝͠’̸̢̛̙̗̖̟͓̣͎̻̺͙̘̖͌̿̆̏̄̔̓̇̕͝͝m̷̡͖̳̭̘̝̩̤̼̘̳̯͓̬͌͂̈́̍͒̈́͛̿̐̏̆̚͠ ̸̣̠̭͚̲̩͑̅̎̾͒͒̒̒͊͝ͅa̶̧̛̯̘̙̯̞̺̻̣̮̒͆̾̚͜͜ ̷͉̹̳̠͕͚̻̠̽g̶̛̼͙̊̉̂̾̓̔̓͂ȩ̶̢̧̡̞͕̠͕͎̅ņ̴̙̎̎͑̀̔̍͂̕̚͠í̷͍͖̥̗̣̫̙͙͙̋̇́̎̍̅͘͠ͅu̴͔͆̽͛̒̏́s̴̨͕͙̬̗̖̘̘̎̒͠.̸̧̦̤̈́͐̈́̎͗̒̿̿͒̄͒ ̶̨͈̬̩̫͇̟͉̐͂̄̓̓͑͌̈́̉̌̐͜͝H̶̨͔̩̱̝̮̍̎͋̎͒͑͛̏̾̈́̃͆̆͋į̷͔̙̱͉̙͍́͌̽̏̿̄̀̈́͝s̶̲͖̳͍̝͓̐̀͆̚ ̸̢̡̘̯̱̜͈̎͐͑͗̌͝͝


n̷̢͚̱͎̥̳̖͕̜̣̆͗â̸̧̫̱̲̮͇̏͒͛͠͠ͅm̴̢͈͎̯͎̓̈́̋̅̀͋̄̏̏̂͑̏̏͘ẹ̷̼͓͔̝͉̘͓̤̘̤̐̎͌̽̈́̍͊̄̈͗̚͜͝͝͝ͅͅ ̸̡̟̥̥̒̂͘͘ḭ̴̛̬̳̺͔̰̻̺̩͈͇̍͊͒̔̈́̂̐ͅs̶̡̩̭̰̝̖͓̯̓̌͑̓̕͘ ̷̢̗̠̳͔̩̟̗̘͎̤̇̑̈́̋͜͝—̵̛͔̠͈̘̈̉͋̍͂̊͛̂̾͊͘͠

“V̴̧̧̡̧̗̙̺̼̝͈̱̼͇̜͓̰̺̟̣̠̫̜̜̟͇͙͇͈̦͓̥͙͎̖̼̫̩̺͈̈̂̿͑̊̉̈́̇̊̑̇̈́̌͛͑̋̋̓̇͛̕͘͘͝͝i̴̡͓͖̥͎͚͈̭̰̦͇̠̊̄́́̎̇̀͛̀̂̌̆̀͂̚͘͜͜͠͝l̶̛͎̳̳͌́̉̂͊̀̈́̇͛ḙ̶̛͕̻̲͓̱̲͒̽̏͆̌̑͆͛͊̃̄̎̅̈́͆͛̀̆͌̈́̆̐̽̾̆̐̀̃̉̎͊̓̓̈̅͋̕̕̕̚͠ţ̴̧̡̧̧̦̹̲̻̯͖̻̤͔͕͙͚͙̫̲̼̲̮̬̞͚̞̗̩̩̫͉̯̗͈̤̭̼͖̻͓̆̎́̈́̒̆̃̉̀̕͜͜͝͝t̴̡̛̛̼͈̺̗̣̲͓͓̿̾̂͒͂͑͗̇͂̒̓͗͌̿͌͋̓̔̚͝͝͝o̴̡̧̖̪͔̭̥̓̉ͅ.”


“Bergoh!”


Ț̴̢̨̗͕̞̳̹̩̙͎͍̯̥̦̪̝͖̰͉̱͓̓̐́̈͆̆̾̏͊̌̿͆̕͝h̸̢̩̘͍̺͖̝̜̥̖͈̼̆́͜͜ả̸̮̤̤̤̟̺̝̲̼͙͓̳̪͚̟̩̪͋̀̑̀̒͋̽̽̒̓̋́͊͘t̵̡̨̛̠̦̩͔̠̲͍͙̼̜͖̗̹̭̳̟̀̃̿̓̆̊́͗̀̃̒͒̄̃̕͜͝ͅͅ ̶̡͈̺̬̪͖̯̳̺͕͖͕̹͊͆ͅd̶̡̟͖̣̞̲̣̭͐́̂̂͐͆̿̿̉̊̿͊̉͆̓̀̚͝͠͠ų̴̢̨̧̧̻͉͕̘̹̥͙͈͇͓̱̺̖̙̲͂m̸̢̡̧̯̣͚͚̹͙̫̩̞̟͉̩̣̱̫̑̂b̶̛͖̘͇͇̼̼̫̼̝̺͍̫̄̈͌̄̉̂͒̚̕͜ặ̵̧̛̪̦̝̼͕̪̘̣̼͛̄̔͌̽́̅̀̀̍̉͛͜͠͠ͅs̶̡̳̦͍̦̺̞͑͆̾̈͐̀́̑͂͛ͅś̸̡̡̯̜̥̩̺͉͈͙̬̖̞̜̘̎͂͒͂̈́̊͌̎̿̽̽̈̅̍͑̆͆̐̐̆͒͆͒̕ͅ ̷̡̥̼̥͙̞̯͉̯̥̪̯͍̝̹̳̲͓͔̱̹̪͐̈́̎̋̀͜l̸̨̧̢͎͓͈̮̪̤͉̲͍̩̘̟̪̮͍̮̘͇̥̦͛̓̀̐̌̏̀͗ͅͅi̵̳̪̗̰̤̺̜̲̲̮͕͔͉̠̓t̷͙̺̪͙͕́̾͜ţ̴̲̯̣̟̝̙̼̖̬̟̭͚͇̩̼̖̼̭̣̮͓̯̼͇͛̐̉̂̇͗̏͌̒̑͊͌̓̄͒̅̽̐̒̈́̓͘͘͠͠͠ͅl̶̝̤͉͛̅̈́͐̇̐͂̎͑̈́̆̚ͅę̵̡̧̛͇̠͚̞͉̩̭̮͈̲͓̦͉̳̦͔͈͍͓͋̇̽͐̇̋̈́̈̈́̀́̀͛͒̄͊-̵̧̨̛̩̮̩̬̦̩̥͔͈̪̜͖̂̈́̀̂̒̆̍͛̋ş̷͕̳̮͉̮̳͔͙̫̯̱̤͕̘̬͎̫̍̂̈́̓̓ͅͅḩ̶͔̯̤̞̼̟̪̙͙̺̙̜͈̙̻͉̫̟̳͎͕̻͇̱̈̆̌̄̀́̅͑ͅi̸̺͊̏̀̇́̄̐̑́̆̊̊̋͛͌̀͝ṱ̶̛̭͔̳̓̌̔̽͌̄̏̇̈́̄͋͝ͅͅ ̸̢̨̨̢̹̙̫͈͕̮̳͈̘̫̟̭͇̱͈̘̖̞̰͕̗͐̐ͅV̶̡̨̧̟͔̦̰̗̮͔͍͔̥̠̥̟̞̗̤̤͕͊̇͛̎̑̌̈́͐̾͛̄̇̈́̾̋̿̋́̍͐̃́̀̕͜͝͠ͅį̶̧̭̝̲͔͍͆̍̄̐̄̔̅̒̈́̓̋͊̃̏̒̈́͆̉̋̌͘͘͜͝͝l̴̛̻͖̮̳̟̮͈̰͙̮̝̣̻͉̘͔̩̞̮͈̙̰͗̏̓̌̌͛̅̅͌̈́̄͑̍̆́̿͘͜͠͝ȩ̶̛͍̻̜͖͇̫̅͗͊͐͊̉̈́̅͆̓̆͒̔̍́͂͌͝t̴̡̹̺͖͔̳̻̅͌̾̎̔̾̽̇͜͠͝͝t̶̛̹̼̻̱͎̫̙͇̝̙̬̙̞͔̥̙̔͋̍̿̓̎̂̎̀̃́̐͊͐̊͆͘̚̚ǫ̵̨͖̜̯̹͍̖̝̳͖̲̥͖̰̝͕͉̝͖͔̮̗̳́ͅ


“Come on, Bergoh!”


H̵̗̫̠̹͖͉̳͑ỏ̶̜̎̔w̷̺͙̥̽̆́͑̾̆͠ ̴̨͍̳̔̔̅͂̏̅̊͜ͅg̸̩̟̿̉̍͋̍o̶̹̓̂̎e̸͙̿̕s̶̛̖̬̻̱͍̮̯̉̀̚ ̴̞͈͈̦̺̫̙͝ẗ̶̼̾̇̅́̉̄h̷̝̠̲̦͓̉̒͌e̶͎͇̱̹͙̓͛̾ ̸̯̙̋̔͌͘̚s̶͈̀͗̄͛́̏̌e̴̱̘͍̲̞̾̽̍͘a̶̡̭̙̥̺͋̀͝r̴͇̈́͂ç̴̡̌̔͛͠͠ḩ̷̰̹̱̈̄̐̀̈́ ̴̨̤̝́̊̒f̶͓̮̞̣̻̙̀̈́̆̎̅̆͝o̶̧͇̊͒͗̌r̶̥̳̻̞̤͇̆̈̊̾ ̴͈͈̻̖̳̯̙̽V̷̢͇͉͓̹͓͕̀͑̚ĭ̵̢̝̪̟͛͊͗̉Let̶̯́t̷̗̪͙̦̪̲̼̿͒̉̂̓̈́͘ỏ̸̠͇̽̆̍̃͗̎,̷̧͖̻͉̹͎̪͌ ̵̻̱͑̂̽̊̓̇C̵̣͚͗̾͒̈́̀̉͑h̶̹̤̲͉̺̍̏̚a̴̧̝̫̠̲̅̈̊̓͆m̵̧̥͖̩̳̹͚̋̎́̒̆p̵̙͋͆̑̌͘?̴̫̰̝͍͍̦̻̾̅͊̈


“BERGOH!”


Ḡ̵̪õ̸̜o̴̘͆d̵̼̿ ̵̭̉l̸̪͋ȕ̷̠c̶̙̀ḵ̴͠ ̵͇̑f̵̣̅ì̵̥ň̵̘ḋ̶̲i̴̜̅ǹ̷̡g̷̻͛ Viletto.


Suddenly, everything, everywhere, Viletto.


Good luck finding Viletto, muttered with a smirk across the table in Aranacia’s study. Viletto evades you yet again, surprise surprise, taunted like someone who expected this outcome. Insults and insinuations, always punctuated with that name, always followed by a pounding headache and a mild sense of confusion. And always the name, always muttered or sworn like a curse, Viletto, Viletto, Viletto.


Ten years of his Championship—of Bergoh’s life—recontextualize in an instant, as every fragmented memory snaps perfectly into place and the name is impossible to forget.


Bergoh coughs hard, an acrid taste pooling in his mouth and spilling through the gap where two of his fingers used to be. Somebody nearby swears in Rixh, and the hands on his shoulders leave, leaving him suddenly alone to maintain his own balance.


Right. Viletto. Suddenly, everywhere—


“Vil—Viletto,” Bergoh croaks, and the shuffling in a different corner of the room stops—reverses, runs back. A damp cloth is pressed to one of his hands, another one wiping off the hand that was previously pressed to his mouth.


“Sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry! I knew she must have everyone in Lair Town under a higher-level Revision but I didn’t think she’d strengthen it just for you, I’m so sorry! When I broke it with Tel, he just passed out, I didn’t expect you to start spitting up blood, that is a lot…of blood—wait, what in Raxhi’s name happened to your hand? Oh-oh no, did I do that?? Did breaking the Revision break your fingers?? That’s waaaay too specific for Aranacia to bother writing out, why would she do that!?”


Viletto stumbles through his words like a lost child, and Bergoh thinks how unfair it is, that he was outsmarted so long by this.


He wipes his mouth with a groan, and Viletto starts to say something, but Bergoh cuts him off. “Just…shut up. For one, damned second.”


There’s a single moment of silence, where neither of them say anything. Bergoh gets a moment to breathe—


“Uh—“


He sends a dirty glare in the direction of the sound, and Viletto wisely rethinks whatever he was going to say. Bergoh gets a few more seconds. His heart slows, the pounding in his brain subsides, his breathing returns to normal. He tries to take the million questions all ricocheting through his brain and pull the unimportant ones back, shelve them for tomorrow or never.


“Listen,” he starts.


No reply.


A pang of worry overtakes him suddenly—did he just up and leave without warning? Where did he go? “Hey, a-are you—“


“I’m listening,” comes the smart-ass reply. Bergoh resists the urge to throttle him.


He decides on a very mature, “Shut up. I have…a lot of questions. And—and you seem to have answers. So you’re gonna answer my questions. Short, simple answers.”


“Yeah. I can do that. Sorry, I freaked a little with the blood and everything, I—“


“Short. Simple. Short and simple. Are you physically fucking incapable of it?”


“Sh-short and simple. Right. Sorry.”


After waiting a moment to make sure Viletto isn’t going to start rambling again, Bergoh starts.


“Your name is Viletto.”


“Yeah.”


“Where am I? You said Aracha?”


“Aracha. It’s a hidden city, carved into one of the mountains in the Long Eight range. We’ve got all kinds of magic barriers up to protect it—nobody gets in without knowing the location and having a key.”


“Okay. Aranacia said there was a resistance trying to overthrow Rixh Rock. Is that what you’re trying to do?”


Viletto laughs bitterly. “Neo, no. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Aranacia needs to fucking die, there needs to be serious upheaval there, but…no. No, that’s not my goal.”


“Then what is? Short and simple,” he adds, hearing Viletto’s alarmingly deep inhale.


“It’s—oh. Um, our goal here is to destroy Deal.”


Like he’d mentioned earlier in their conversation. “Deal magic?”


“Yeah. It’s—look, can I just explain a little? It’s kind of impossible to do in sentence fragments.”


Begrudgingly, Bergoh motions for him to speak.


“Thanks. Okay, so, all of the people here in Aracha have, one way or another, come across or been wronged by Deal magic. It’s this kind of magic that covers all of Oterro, Rixh or Pelyle or even out to Kana, that makes any contract you sign binding. The only people who can control it, so far as we know, are the leaders of Rixh Rock and Pelyle Isle—right now, Aranacia and Palmeria. Anything that violates that magic allows the queens to…basically, they can magically smite anyone who voids a contract or disobeys them. It happens all the time to anyone who thinks anything that might be seen as contrary to the system they’ve grown up in—little headaches, migraines, nothing serious. But the more blatant the crime, the more powerful their ability to smite you.”


He pauses, apparently to breathe, and Bergoh seizes the opportunity. “Is that what the…the memory thing was?”


“A Revision. It’s different. I…I don’t know how they work. But people’s memories, their personalities get overwritten. Like I said, ‘Nacia’s are sloppy, most of them can be broken under Tax Evasion—our anti-Deal magic—but we haven’t figured out how to crack Palmeria’s yet.”


“Sounds like you know plenty about how they work.”


“Not nearly enough,” he grumbles, so quietly Bergoh almost misses it. Viletto clears his throat before speaking clearly again. “I do know this, though. Have you ever tried to disobey Aranacia?”


“No, I’m not a fucking moron.”


“…Okaaay, trying not to take that personally. Anyway, think of the migraine you just got from trying to figure out what she was saying to you all those years. Now imagine that, only instead of being in a safe rebel city with bespoke magical protection, you were in Lair Town. It would kill you if you didn’t stop questioning it, right?”


Bergoh opens his mouth to deny it and falters. That agonizing headache—spitting up blood, just from trying to remember something—probably would have killed him. Yet again, pride is useless to him.


“You get it. It’s a dangerous power,” Viletto continues, emboldened by the silence. “It’s too dangerous to be left in the hands of tyrants—of anyone. Putting a new ruler in place won’t fix anything—they’ll be corrupted just like the leaders are now. There’s something deeper to this than just magic and death. We know anyone who leaves the continent gets smote, and if you’re not born under Deal, just existing is enough to be considered a crime. Anytime there’s about to be some big societal upheaval or improvement, something comes along to stop it, unexpected and impossible to explain. Anyone who questions the system gets that questioning shut down, fast. Nobody under Deal works together, nobody’s willing to fight for what they believe in. That’s why we’re trying to destroy it. Everyone deserves to be free, to live without fear, and to choose what matters to them. Everyone.


Bergoh ponders that for a moment. He doesn’t disagree with the ideal. It’s just that…well, he hasn’t really thought about anything besides his goal for a long time. Decades and decades, his only goal has been bringing Dizho back from the dead, regardless of anything that happened along the way. The idea of trying to free everyone from a system he’s only just begun to learn about is…


It’s overwhelming.


His fists curl in his lap. He’s wasting time. This kind of idealism is nice in theory, but impossible in practice. He’s seen the ceaseless struggles in Lair Town, the constant upheaval. It’s constant for a reason—it’s just the way things are, and no resistance can change that. Bergoh shouldn’t be wasting time sating his curiosity—every second he lets Viletto run his mouth is another second that Dizho isn’t alive.


He can do this. He may be blind now, but he has new information—he knows about Deal, and about Viletto, and the resistance. He found what he was looking for, all those years. Maybe he’s not Aranacia’s Champion anymore, but…he has something she wants. He’s not starting his search from scratch, and not without leverage.


“Last question,” Bergoh says. “How do I get out of here?”


“No.”


“…’No’?” he echoes.


“No,” Viletto confirms. It’s the surest he’s sounded in their conversation, and a marked difference from the stuttering mess he’d been previously. “I’ve indulged your questions, and now before you make any stupid decisions like dying alone in the snow, I’ve got a question for you. Join us.”


“W—”


Viletto barrels on. “And I know, that’s not exactly a question, but I don’t really care. Because Lair Town is too dangerous for me to scope out anymore and all the current Champions are working for Palmeria so we don’t have anyone with intel on ‘Nacia’s current setup but you, you were her Champion until, like, a few weeks ago, and when you and Dizho were younger I know you broke into the casino vaults so if we ever need to we can do it again with your help, so join us.”


“I-I…” Bergoh isn’t sure how exactly they got here. He isn’t really sure of anything right now, and that’s a problem. He forces himself back on task. Dizho. Remember Dizho. “I’m not joining you.”


“Why not?”


“Why do you care?” Will he have to make a break for it? Is Viletto going to chase him down if he tries? He tries to think back to Viletto letting him physically map his features—other than the injured eye, he can’t think of any exploitable weak spots right now.


“Humor me. Why?”


“Because I hate you. Because you don’t really want me in your stupid resistance. Because our goals don’t align. Fucking pick one.”


“Oh, I’ll do you one better. ‘You hate me’? No you don’t. You’re just not used to someone being nice to you and the only emotion you remember is hate so you’re trying to push any positivity away. I get it, you’re not special, move on. ‘I don’t want you here’? Dude, I literally gave you an essay of reasons you’d be useful to us, and I’m not even considering the fighting potential once we give you a way to properly navigate. And as for goals, I know you won’t just work for me for free. I can help you figure out a way to bring your sister back. You still want to say no?”


Bergoh’s world stops.


I can help you figure out a way to bring your sister back.

I can help you figure out a way to bring your sister back.

I can help you figure out a way to

bring your sister back.

I can help you

figure out a way to

help you

bring your sister back.

help you


I can help you bring your sister back.


Bergoh comes back to reality to find he’s being shaken roughly by the shoulders. He blinks a few times, not remembering that it won’t work.


“-rgoh? Oh, good, you’re alive.” The shaking stops, but the hands don’t leave him. A nervous voice—Viletto, Bergoh’s mind yells, suddenly, everywhere. Viletto whispers, “I’ve, uh, never really been on the other side of a panic attack before, I’m not really sure how to help here.”


I can help you


Bergoh swallows.


“You okay?” Viletto asks.


Bergoh doesn’t remember the last time someone bothered to ask that.


figure out a way


“Well, you’re breathing, so that’s…something. I—Whinn’s not exactly your biggest fan, so I don’t think she’ll come up to help if I asked. Maybe Mapell can try? No, he’s probably going to be scared of you. He’s scared of everyone. And if you could see, maybe Punk could help, but she’s not even here. Can I get you…water or something? Would that help?”


I can help you


It can’t be this easy. There’s…there’s no way Viletto can deliver what he just said he could.


“O-oh. Not me specifically,” Viletto answers—did I say that out loud? “I’m a magic-user, but…me and necromantic stuff don’t really mix so well. But I know some people who might be skilled enough. Better wizards. The tricky part will be getting them to do it at all, given your…um, we’ll call it poor decision making. Most of Aracha either doesn’t care about you or specifically hates your guts.” He pauses for a moment. “Yeah, we probably have to do something about that first. I think if Burke heard me promising this he’d probably have an aneurysm or something.”


We,” Bergoh echoes hoarsely, latches onto that word like a fucking lifeline. There hasn’t been a ‘we’ in forever. Not since Dizho. It’s just been him. Only him, on his own, trying to figure out how to get her back so he can have a ‘we’ again.


“Yeah. There are people here—everywhere—who think you’ve done unforgivable things. I’m one of them,” Viletto adds bluntly. Bergoh isn’t sure why hearing that feels like someone twisting a knife in his gut. “But…everyone should get a second chance. And in a world like this, where people do unspeakable things just to get by, the motive really matters. And everything horrible you’ve done, you’ve done for her. Right?”


Bergoh manages a nod. It feels like the weight of the past decades, of every heartless decision he’s made, every ally he’s pushed away and every obstacle he’s mowed down, it’s all suddenly dragging down on him, pulling him into the ground—and the only thing keeping him upright is Viletto’s idealistic, naive, stupid incredible optimism, and the hands planted securely on his shoulders.


“Right. So, you might as well do something good for her, too. You can’t cancel out the bad, but maybe you can…be better. Be someone she’ll be proud of when she comes back.”


“I…don’t…” Bergoh’s voice is quiet. He turns to look where his hands would be, again forgetting that he’ll never see them again. He tries to put the million thoughts flying around his head into words, short and simple. “I don’t…really remember how to do that.”


“You don’t have to. I’ll help you, every step of the way. But hey, siding with us instead of going it alone? That might be a decent first step, and I can’t make you do it. You’ve gotta do it all on your own.”


“What if I can’t? Aren’t you afraid I’ll betray you?” Now Bergoh’s rambling. “What if I go back to the way I was, and destroy everything you’re working towards? I know where you are, I know your name, I know Aranacia wants you dead, I have information that she wants. What’s to stop me from leaving right now and telling her everything you’ve just told me?”


“You won’t.”


“How can you be so sure?”


“I just am.”


How?!


“I trust you,” Viletto says, matter of fact, as if it’s not the most asinine thing anyone has ever said to him.


“…Why?”


Viletto proceeds to make the most noncommittal noise Bergoh has ever heard. “I guess I’m making a gamble here. At this point, we’re both running out of options, so…might as well take a leap of faith. If you turn on me, it’s over for Aracha, sure—but I think we both know that the queens are as likely to help you bring Dizho back as they are to abdicate. I’ve already taken the leap, so it’s your turn, and I think you’re strong enough to do it. I’ll ask again, Bergoh. Join us?”


I can help you.


I trust you.


Maybe you can…be better.


In the face of such unwavering faith, what can Bergoh do but leap?


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