“I am old, and the repose of a country gentleman suited me. It would more surely have suited my son.” Lusk staggered backward, clutching his wound. “But you have denied me the only woman who was capable of bearing the son that I need, and for that, I must cast the facade aside.”

Lusk’s estate blurred, liquified, vanished; for it had never been an estate, but an illusion, an extension of its master’s form and will. The neat lines of trees and manicured lawns dried up like water in the desert, revealing cracked and bone-dry earth; for the grounds were their master’s skin and the trees his sinews. The twisted remains of the earth gyrated in a movement that was not quite tremor, not quite spasm.

“Cunning and guile serve me well, a mailed fist in a velvet glove,” Lusk continued. The voice didn’t seem to issue from his mouth, but rather from the ground itself, and the register varied wildly, from conversational and high to a low and menacing growl like a grindstone of volcanic glass. “But even for an old trickster like me, cunning must sometimes give way to brute force.”

Lusk’s own form was melting away, running like hot tallow into the blighted ground. Like everything else, it had been an affectation in the service of guile. The dread spirit of the land was rising up, a cloak of shadows about a towering, impossible, and utterly horrifying form.

“You will regret the day that you interfered with the will of the dread god Ksul,” the horror cried in a voice that was wolves howling against the fierce midnight winds. “Pay for your foolishness with your lives, and the lives of every living creature in the valley!”

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