Flicking the paper with the address into the flame, Mercer unfolded the parchment, which contained his instructions.

Collect one Aul Pyfer from this location. You may be familiar with the Aulite sect; Pyfer is regarded by Aulites as their incarnate god and has been since his discovery at age two.

You will escort Pyfer to an Aulite agent in Eastfall; the specific address is at dead drop #13. Under no circumstances is he to be harmed; under no circumstances is he to be identified. Do not surrender Pyfer to anyone, be they Aulites or government.

If the mission is compromised, burn all papers rather than surrendering them. Money for expenses is at dead drop #13 and your complete payment awaits at the destination.

Mercer frowned. The Aulites? He remembered them proselytizing in the center of town, dressed in colorful rags and making strange sounds. It had amazed him, at the time, that the Lightfaith had allowed them to persevere.

Someone else must have been amazed as well, since they’d been annihilated a week or two ago, with all their adherents and clergy rounded up in a vicious pogrom. They were likely waiting trial or dead by now, so why had their god somehow survived?

He shrugged and gave the arranged knock. It wasn’t in his job to ask questions. Wondering was free, but answers were costly.

A timid-looking man in ill-fitting peasant clothes answered the door. “You are the courier, yes?” he said. “The Aul awaits.”

Shown into an interior room, Mercer was ushered through a muslin curtain into a candlelit room. Immediately, he put his head in his hands.

“Greetings, courier,” the Aul said. “You need not bow to me like that.”

He was a literal mountain of a man, more than six feet tall and clearly north of three hundred pounds. His skin was darkly bronzed, probably from applications of moisturizing quinon cream, which Mercer could smell hanging thickly in the air. Above it all, the Aul had a mop of ginger curls and incredibly piercing, grey-green eyes.

Even if no one had even seen an Aulite in their life, they would remember the Aul.

“What have you been feeding him?” Mercer snapped at the scrawny usher.

“The Aul is our incarnate god,” the man said. “He has wanted for nothing.”

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