“I am bound for Ysoait,” said Scimoc. “You’ve heard of it?”

The guide nodded her head. “Of course,” Agneja said. “The little sister. Youngest and brattiest of the Seitselin. What do you hope to find there?”

Scimoc tented his fingers, much as he did with the Emperor when trying to emphasize the importance of any one issue. “You’re familiar with the elves?” he said.

“Depends,” Agneja laughed. “You’re familiar with Winterfather, who leaves sweets in the shoes of good children on the solstice, provided they’ve rich parents?”

“Hmph,” Scimoc said. “I’d expect someone familiar with the far west to be a bit more openminded.”

“When it comes to wolves, bears, rivers so raging they can’t be crossed, and slopes so steep that even the goats fall off them, I’m openminded,” said Agneja. “When it comes to magic? Creatures of air and light that were so powerful they could steal our children and yet so weak that we were able to drive them to extinction a thousand years ago? Call me a skeptic.”

“Well, if you’re too skeptical to take on this expedition…”

Agneja cut him off with a firm chop of her hand. “I’m never too skeptical to get paid,” she said. “You want to go into the furthest reaches of Zalissa, well beyond what safety the Seven Castles can offer you? I can make that happen for the right price. But don’t ask me to believe in whatever rich man’s dream has set you out here, all right?”

“Fair enough,” Scimoc said. “Will you indulge me to share my entire purpose, or is that too fantastic for you?”

“Share away.”

“I’ve been reading the reports of Elyod’s Expedition,” Scimoc said. “Trying to discern some meaning from the madness, as it were, and also to reconstruct parts of the text that were lost to the elements before it was found.”

“Elyod, huh?” Agneja snorted. “I know he’s an Imperial hero and all, but if he’d just had to stones to ask someone who actually knew the area for a little help, he wouldn’t have starved to death after eating his own men. Just saying.”

“Quite, which is why I’m not making the same mistake,” said Scimoc. “But I think that, in one of his last coherent notes, he describes the ruins of an elven city. And I think that it contains a depiction of an elf–one of the only, if not the only remaining images of their kind in existence.”

“Pointy ears and all?”

“Well, we shall see, won’t we?”

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