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#1 [fr] 

Keeping an even mask. Resist the urge to put on your helmet and let your emotions flow. More on that later.

Right now, there was no room for that. He had duties to fulfill, people who relied on him. He couldn't crack. Not now, he couldn't.

The respite had been short-lived. For a few weeks, he had believed that hope was allowed. A few weeks of pure happiness, when he had allowed himself to dream. Kamis don't like dreamers, he'd known that for a long time. Overnight, the situation had deteriorated, and then... And then the inevitable happened.

Haokan's memories were hazy, and he had no desire to explore them. Zhen had been sick. Probably some of the junk he was taking. Haokan worried that her husband's discomfort wouldn't pass, and how do you deal with drug addicts overdosing? You might as well ask another junkie. Feinigan being the closest, he went to see him, leaving Zhen in the care of the bartender...

Feinigan was in no condition to answer any more questions. There was a letter by the bedside, with his name on it. It had taken Haokan a moment to see it. How long had he stood there by the bed, transfixed, tetanized by the macabre immobility of his friend, holding that too-cold, too-stiff hand in his own? An infinite time, that's for sure. It had been painful to move again, to take his eyes off the tryker's face. That expression on his face would haunt her nights.

He'd taken the letter, certain that Feinigan had found one last joke to play. If only the little twerp could wake up screaming "surprise!".

But there was no chance of that happening.
Lettre de Feinigan à Haokan
Sorry, sweetie.

I turned it every which way, but I told myself that you'd be even more upset with me if I disappeared without you knowing where I was, or if I let someone else take care of it. Besides, you're the only one I really trust. Family is nice, but mine aren't the type to respect last wishes.

Don't let my seed of life fall into their hands. In anyone's hands. Just you. She called you Mayu'kyo, if you remember; and only my favorite mayu'kyo can understand. I've warned other people, you'll probably have allies, but don't really trust anyone. I don't want to be the butt of this kind of joke, but you know the people I've teased over the years; some might find the opportunity irresistible. Or worse, think they're doing the right thing.

Don't hold it against Canillia. Thanks for picking her up, by the way; I'd have been too disappointed to leave this world without tasting one of her cocktails. She could make a fortune as a dealer, if she abused her products a little less. Her stuff would have given me the boost I needed to finish what I had to do. But Gami wasn't going to wait forever for his due. You have to pay a little sometimes...

I won't abandon you completely, I promise. I've left a chest in your closet, in the back, behind your old clothes that you can't bring yourself to get rid of... That should keep you busy for a few years. Open it when you've got rid of my body. Don't wait years either.

As for the rest, there's everything you need in the cupboard near the entrance. I'll leave you to rummage. If you read the letters I've planned for the others, make sure you re-seal them, eh? So they don't get the impression you've been indiscreet.

I didn't suffer. I promise. You know me, I'm not that stupid. It was Nejimbe who gave me the idea. She told me a terrible joke the other day, I thought I was going to die laughing, and then I realized it was the right death. Dying of laughter is the best. And I'm sure no one bet on that kind of ending! And don't blame Zhen for giving me something to laugh about right up to the end; he didn't know what I had in mind. If you want to laugh too, ask Néjimbé to tell you the joke. But don't leave her alone with me, eh? She's capable of anything.

I have a last wish (in addition to funeral arrangements, we talked about that, you know what to do). In fact, it's my last order. Stay away from the Void Promontory. If it tickles you, have a beer in my memory, okal?

And don't abandon the children. It's not their fault, they still need you, even if they're getting old enough to do their own thing. But they still need a Wawa to comfort them when they get burned playing with fire.

I love you, sweetheart. I wish I could make you happy for years to come, but that's Zhen's job now.

Screws.

F.

Zhen... Zhen sick at the bar... But he wasn't going to die (and as he thought this, Haokan felt a terrible anguish come over him; was he going to die too? Was this the return of his curse?). Zhen was going to have to fend for himself on this one, assuming he'd swallowed all the junk from the Black Circle, the Illuminati and who knows what other bunch of drug addicts.

Haokan had mechanically prepared the body according to instructions received long before. It had taken him several tries to incant the spell, but he'd managed. Then he tidied up the apartment and cleaned up. Where Feinigan had indicated, he had found a pile of letters and a few sheets of various instructions. All he had to do was follow them, no questions asked. The usually messy tryker had been a model of organization on the subject, for which Haokan was grateful. He knew how to stop thinking, and that's what he needed at the moment, especially as there was nothing new in all this. Sinking into a great nothingness, the mask empty, putting off emotions as long as possible...

Edited 2 times | Last edited by Haokan (10 months ago) | Reason: correction de coquilles

#2 [fr] 

He hadn't said anything to Zhen at the time. He'd dragged his demon husband back to his apartment, with a hot water bottle and a full pot of tea. The Enlightened One wasn't in a position to realize the kamist's trouble, anyway.

To the pile of izams to be sent, Haokan had added a letter for Gicha Cirinia*, asking one of their number to come and deal with her dear husband's excesses. Zhen had squealed against this abandonment, but it wasn't possible to manage everything in parallel. Once he was well again... he'd explain.

The hardest part had been telling the children. All the others were adults, the letters Feinigan had written beforehand would suffice (and the kamis knew what kind of horror he had written to some of them...), but the children... He'd gone to Crystabell's house, gathered them together, explained to them as soberly as possible, further resisting his urge to put on his helmet. He owed it to them to hold on, to show them serenity and stability. They'd cried a little, all of them, and asked awkward questions.

The worst had obviously come from Grigri:
- Can we see it?
- Born. It's not a pleasant sight.
- I can imagine, Wawa. But it's just... it's hard to imagine.
- We'll... we'll see, ukio? I'll have to take his body on one last trip, so maybe we can get together on the beach and those who want to can say goodbye before we go.
- Where are you taking it?
- I can't tell you, Grigri. It had something to do with his religious beliefs, but he didn't like the uninitiated to know about such things.
- The Dragon, pfff, I know. He said I'd be a high priestess too, one day!
- May the kamis save you from this fate... in the meantime, it's born. If you really want it, it'll be a ceremony on the beach, but that's it. And I don't want to argue any more.

Then he had to start all over again at Pyr's house, promising the children who lived there another ceremony at the Forge. The old fyros who kept an eye on them had taken him aside, before he left:
- You're going to... do what he wanted?
- I'll try, yui.
- I'm not in great shape to run and help you, but I can ask one of my little nieces to help you, for the Fire.
- It's just that...
- She's a pyromancer, someone reliable, who knows the Ancient Rites.
- No offense, Xymolaus, but I don't have a lot of confidence in... yours.
- Enough to trust me with kids, but not enough to burn a body?
- Neither... But I don't have much choice about the kids, and Feinigan trusted you enough for that, so I'll settle for that. The rest can't be that difficult.
- You've never lit a real fire, Zoraï. Much less mastered it. Take the help, if you don't want to start a new Coriolis... or end up looking like an idiot.
- ... I'll think about it. I've got other things to do first, anyway.
Note HRP
* Gicha Cirinia: Leader of the Illuminated tribe.

Last edited by Haokan (10 months ago) | Reason: correction de coquilles

#3 [fr] 

The Family, as Feinigan called them. The people of the Shadows. Smugglers, spies, thieves, schemers, blackmailers, drug dealers; a whole fauna of the shadiest but some of the most respectable appearances. There was officially something for everyone. Rangers, marauders, various tribes, all nations. People whose faces were quickly forgotten, others who were rather well known. No doubt there were a few honest people among the lot; though by Fei's standards, they were all "honest". Just with a very specific conception of morality and standards.

Following the letters, they had gradually come to greet the body, one, two or three, rarely more at a time. Some paid their respects to Haokan, a few stared at him like a curious beast, most simply ignored him. Those closest to him showed genuine sympathy. Wieny even offered to "help him write a great epic on the life of my huluberlu of an uncle, that will make all of Bark laugh". It was a good idea, but Haokan didn't really feel like laughing at the moment. Maybe later.

Néjimbé had lingered, while others came and went. They had talked a little, in between visits. Haokan, on this occasion, understood better why Feinigan had always passionately loved this icy, almost inhuman Zoraïe. He knew that kind of mask. He knew very well how much the tryker had had to scratch to break that coldness... to the point of going too far.

Curiosity prompted him to ask the hominin:
- Have you forgiven him yet? Or do you still hold a grudge?

She took her time answering, her mask absolutely inexpressive:
- He needed to run. And not to stay too close to my stuff. But... I don't think I resented him for long. He was hard to really hate.
- You mean, the whole debt thing, the threats and all... it was all in fun?
- To keep her busy. It worked in part. Still, I'm relieved that he returned the various documents he'd stolen. I didn't want to really torture him. The energy it would have taken to get him to talk and make sure he told the truth, without any nasty surprises...

Haokan wasn't at all sure she was joking. Only Feinigan could see the humor in that kind of statement. Which reminded him... He asked her what kind of joke she'd told Feinigan shortly before her death. It didn't ring a bell with the zoraie, until he gave all the details he had.

- This... declared Néjimbé. A joke... Kind of. For someone like him.

She then told him what had happened.

Last edited by Haokan (10 months ago) | Reason: correction de coquilles

#4 [fr] 

Néjimbé had arrived in Crystabell one fine day. After a few questions to the guards, she was directed to a beach where, no doubt, the tryker was bubbling. She went there. He was fishing, or something like that. He seemed to be doing pretty well.

She had thrown the report at his feet:
- What does THAT mean?

Feinigan had looked at the booklet, glanced bubbly at Nejimbé, obviously oblivious to the temperature which must have dropped below zero since her arrival, and smiled:
- Shall I read it, my ice cube?
- Read on. And explain yourself.

He'd taken the document and gone through it, smiling more and more. Then he had a fit of giggles, which degenerated into a terrible cough. Néjimbé thought he was going to die, for real, so hard had the tryker struggled to catch his breath, coughing up a mixture of blood and what really looked like goo. She couldn't understand how Haokan and Zhen could stand the smell; Haokan especially with his kamist "I don't touch those things" side.

(At this point in the story, which she told without sugarcoating, Haokan pouted, but didn't interrupt).

When Feinigan had finally caught his breath, long minutes later, he had declared:
- Never... believe... drug... addicts.
- It's confirmed.
- I'm not talking about myself. Of course you don't believe me, you're not crazy. But Canillia... your spies told you she was injecting her product, didn't they? She gave us a demonstration. Very impressive. It completely froze Haokan, and I think he wiped it from his mind right away, it was so crazy. She probably wanted to convince us of the harmlessness of her product. Can you imagine if I'd done the same with everything I've sold over the years?
- Feinigan, you as tasted everything you've sold over the years.
- Yeah, but long after I stopped selling it. Therapeutic, you know? Nah nah nah, a good dealer doesn't take his own product unless he wants to have a very short career.
- Don't divert the conversation. The result.
- Look, if there's goo in my medicine, it's not my fault. I'm crazy, okay, and maybe even a little reckless sometimes, but I'm not a complete idiot either.
- It's because I don't trust your reasoning abilities that I'm here. Nor in your word. Where's your syrup supply?
- Ask Hao... he usually brings it to me, and as far as I know, it's direct from the Theocracy's healers.

Then he laughed:
- He's poisoned me on occasion, but not with this kind of stuff. He's too uptight about goo. Nah, my guess is Canillia just hallucinated and mistook sap for goo or something.
- I'm going to run a few more tests of my own. If I find out you're deliberately poisoning yourself, I'll sell you back to the Black Circle.
- Hey, easy there, ice queen! I'm telling you, I had nothing to do with it. Not only that, but I don't believe for a second that there's goo in my syrup. Especially active goo; who puts active goo in a drug? Unless you're dead wrong. It's an apprentice alchemist's trick who thinks it works like that, but they don't usually last long. And even if that's what Zhen brings me sometimes... Hao goes back, he'd have snorted if there was any goo or anything. You Zorais are superhuman at spotting this stuff.
- From the smell around you, Feinigan, no zorai could tell if it's from what you're taking or what you are. In the Theocracy, you would have been banished from the cities a long time ago.
- I know, I know... it's a good thing I'm not there, huh? Here I can go to the bar, and most of the homins aren't even bothered. Only the zorais wince. And there aren't many of those in Crystabell. But test my vial of the day, go and ask Hao for more samples... you'll see. Canillia's product is stronger than she sold it to me. I'm not unhappy about it, it's given me a hell of a buzz! I've been able to make progress on a lot of things that were slipping! But I think it also finished activating the goo. Well, that's probably irrelevant. Who cares? Anyway, she said "no hallu", but I promise you I got some, and it was fun. I felt like I was growing wings, ready to ignite the bark and all. I even wrote some great poems on occasion! But when I got back down, I realized that writing them in the sand AND underwater wasn't quite as good an idea as it had seemed at the time.
- We'll see.
- Poems? Not a chance.
- Goo in your syrup!

***


- So what? Someone poisoned his syrup?
- I know you'd like to find someone to swing that axe at, Haokan. But no, there was nothing. Either it was just the sample Canillia got, or Feinigan was right, she did her tests completely drugged and abused herself. This is probably the correct hypothesis.
- I'd hate to have to suspect the Theocracy of goo trafficking.

Néjimbé had no answer to that. She doubts the zorai is as naive as he claims; he's been around long enough, and done enough snooping, to know that the relationship between the Theocracy and the Scourge is highly ambiguous. She's not here to talk politics, anyway. But, in this particular case, it wouldn't have made much sense for the Theocracy's remedies to be poisoned.

Unless, of course, someone had wanted to make sure Feinigan didn't escape.

Last edited by Nejimbe (10 months ago) | Reason: plus de coquilles

#5 [fr] 

"What does he want from me, that one," she grumbled.
Without even bothering to open it, she placed the sealed letter on her table, which began to mop up the previous day's spilled byrh.
"And toub," she grumbled, removing it from the table. She proceeded to shake it lightly dry, while she pondered.
If he's writing to me, it's probably because of a desperate situation. And if he wants me to help him treat someone, he need only contact 'Yum, directly. Or Tao-Sian, since the other one can't be found. In fact, I'd have to find out where 'Yum is. Anyway, I'm the worst healer in the whole bark, barely able to make a few potions whose composition I've memorized...

She put the letter down on her work table to finish dressing. A non-functioning arm made it difficult to put on a kostomyx, and she worked as hard as she could, cutting and re-cutting old armor to come up with a system more suited to her physical condition. Jazzy had promised her a new ry-fabren, when he had time between marital crises, but she soon realized that she wouldn't be able to put it on as it was, and would need some adjustments.
Then taking out a dagger, she finally opened the letter, scanning it with her eyes, before sitting down, seized by a flush of sweat.
So that's it. One more to succumb to the plague. One more careless person. Though at his level, it was beyond reckless. How to know...

Eeri sat still for a moment in her new apartment, which already smelled of byrh and shooki. She put down the letter and grabbed a vial of oxyx that was lying around, uncorking it with a flick of her teeth.

"I'll never know now if you were really in love with me, my little Feinigan... That day we left for the Old Lands, when you kissed me... The question will now remain unanswered..."

Her voice echoed in her too-empty apartment. Eeri felt a strange, embarrassing sensation, as if she had seen and heard herself uttering these words, from the outside.
She stood up and took a sip of oxyx.

Of course not, pure provocation. And anyway, it wouldn't have been reciprocal.

---

Eeri
"Quand on a le nez trop près de la bouteille, on ne voit plus le bar"

#6 [fr] 

The letter had taken a long time to find her. Or maybe it was the other way around. But still, what an idea to address mail to her at her apartment rather than at the bar, eh. It must have been Hao's idea: either he hadn't wanted to face the laughing crowd at the bar, or he had lots of letters to send and hadn't thought about the habits of the recipients. Anyway, it wasn't as if this kind of mail called for an urgent reply either.

Krill reread the letter once more. Fei hadn't even bothered to specify that he would be definitively dead when she received it. At the same time, it was no surprise given the content of their last discussions, and the look on his face for several years now. Besides, she knew how to read between the lines. And even if she hadn't tricked Zhen into spilling the beans earlier, seeing Grigri with his stuffed yubo in public was a pretty sure indication that there was baldusa under the skin.

The long list of sycophantic adjectives at the beginning of the letter was typical of the honest businessman. His shameless recharacterization of their agreement regarding the girls even more so. Krill chuckled: "Forget it, Fei. I said they'd have shelter to heal their wounds if they needed it, and advice if they asked for it. As for the rest, you can go brush yourself off..."
Still, the idea of pestering Zhen or Hao at either of their homes was tempting. Fei had at least kept her word on this: she had the addresses and the keys. She laughed to herself. Then she put the whole thing away on a shelf: the girls would have to be in a lot of trouble for her to decide to involve the two energetics, who were just as counter-productive as each other, even if not for the same reasons. Damn Fei, he'd managed to pass the buck to her...

---

Peu importe que la chope soit à moitié vide ou à moitié pleine, tant qu'on a le tonneau.

#7 [fr] 

Haokan had found Zhen in the last place the Zorai was supposed to be: the Avendale bar. There was only one city in the entire Federation that the Illuminated One had to avoid, and that was where he was. As for the Kamist, he really, really didn't have the patience to put up with this kind of provocation. He didn't want to run into his mother just yet, let alone deal with her recriminations, but Zhen seemed addicted to this kind of annoyance.


Haokan had dragged Zhen out of town, but his anger quickly faded as he saw how pitiful his beloved looked. He was still under the effect of that... only the kami knew what it was. The Illuminati hadn't solved the problem. Clearly, the proposed remedy was resurrection by the Powers, and Zhen thought he'd bore Lyren with it. Haokan had retreated behind his shell. Since it had to be done, and since Zhen deserved to be punished for messing with the instructions again, he might as well do it. He'd done it.

Then he had collapsed in the sand, certain that the Powers would not bring him back, that they would take away each and every one of his reasons for living, one by one, until the Void once again settled entirely in his heart. It was in this state that Zhen, fresh as a daisy after Jena's care, found him a few moments later.

- Hao, I'm not made of parchment, you know that. There's nothing to worry about.
- You all say that... Fei said he was immortal... It's not fair! And it has to happen... at a time like this...
- A moment how?

Haokan had then told him of Feinigan's death, finally letting go of the floodgates in his lover's arms. Zhen had comforted him, reminding him that the tryker wouldn't have wanted so many tears. Feinigan had joined Gami, closer to the one true Enlightenment than many homins. Wasn't that a reason to celebrate?

Haokan didn't even feel like arguing. Nor to criticize her husband's beliefs, not at a time like this. For Zhen, Feinigan should being a gami-ho since he had been touched by the goo's "blessing". That Feinigan had other beliefs, other ambitions, had been inconceivable, and Haokan even doubted that the tryker had actually discussed it with the Illuminated One, even if the scarifications on his torso were quite a statement. But there was something to it. The honest trader wouldn't have wanted torrents of tears, he wanted people to laugh. So Haokan had wiped away his tears, letting Zhen's charms make him forget his pain, for a while at least.

#8 [fr] 

Haokan had received his leader's call to war. He put his helmet back on, buried his feelings deep in his heart, triple-locked the room where Feinigan's body lay, and went off to do his duty as an honest Kamist. Then he'd answered one request, then another, trying through action to stop thinking.

Until Grigri cornered him one evening while he was finishing preparing dinner:
- Wawa! That's enough now!
- Hmm? It'll be ready in a few minutes.
- I'm not talking about the meal! We have to say goodbye to Dad!
- ...
- I don't care! I'm the boss here, and the boss orders you to take her to Fairhaven beach tomorrow night! We're going to have this ceremony!
- But, Grigri, I haven't prepared anything.
- You just bring it. We don't care about the rest. And if you don't, I'll ask Zhen to make you!

Big blue sigh. He had no doubt that the child would use all her arguments to get what she wanted. And technically, she did indeed have the little badge saying she was in charge of the orphanage; an old joke of Feinigan's who'd found it hilarious to give that title to the youngest and most broken of the children at the time. This had not been a bad thing, allowing Gris to assert herself and gradually come out of her shell.

And she wasn't wrong. The spells and stanza to preserve the body would eventually disintegrate and that would be worse. He couldn't run from the end of the chore forever.
- Ukio, ukio... we'll do something simple between us. But the island southeast of Crystabell would be better, don't you think?
- Yeah, if you like. We'll have less to swim, I'm fine with that too.

So he had gone to the island as agreed, Feinigan's embalmed body on a mektoub. He could have carried it in his arms, but then he'd have a long way to go. He might as well finish this last journey in a hurry. He had been surprised to see that there were not only the dozen or so children who gravitated around the "Amicale Synarchique", but also many Trykers and people from other countries. Everyone seemed to have decided to party here... Grigri was already running towards him:
- There you are! Come on, let's put it over there.
- But... Grigri... why are these people here?
- Oh, yeah, wait, I have to tell them.

The trykette jumped up on a table while Haokan set down her burden, picked up a cornet to carry her delicate voice, and began her speech:
- Thank you all for coming! I told you all to bring picnics, drinks and parties. I hope everyone has what they need! But I didn't tell you why you had to come. It's in honor of my dad.

It was because Haokan was nearby that he saw the child clench his fists briefly, his eyes a little brighter. But Grisen had a fierce will and was not about to flinch. She continued, having barely paused:
- He's going on his last trip, but if there's an afterlife, you can be sure he'll be driving everyone crazy in the afterlife. My dad - Feinigan - he wasn't my father, that I ever knew, but he was the best father I could have had. It's no fun for me to know that he won't be there to teach me how to put salt on izams' tails and avoid cloppers' claws. But I don't feel like crying tonight. I want to honor him, to show that I've learned what he could teach me, and then the rest too. Dad liked people to be free and happy. And to annoy them, too. I'm sure you've got lots of anecdotes about the niches he made and the weird stories he told. So, sure, he's a pain in the ass to leave us like this, but I'm sure he's left us plenty to laugh about tonight, too. So, let's party!

She jumped down onto the sand, dropping the megaphone to grab a firework, which she expertly lit in front of the stunned crowd. And as the device exploded in a spray of blazing colors, a few people began to applaud and cheer, soon followed by the others. The people of the lakes and their guests were not the type to miss an opportunity to celebrate, even if it was for an unusual pretext.

Haokan stayed close to the body in the hullabaloo, finding it almost harder than the child to hide his tears. He couldn't put on his helmet to hide his emotions, not tonight, but he couldn't flinch either. Others toasted his old friend, a few shared the mischief they'd been the victims of, the strange deals the tryker could make or even some tasty (if not indecent) anecdotes about him*.

He felt a small hand slip into his, then a second one on the other side. Grigri and Rena looked at him gravely. He leaned towards them, clutching the two trykettes to his heart.
- Poko'i... I'll have to leave the house to you for a while.
- We know, Wawa.
- Guzu...
- Don't worry. We're grown-ups.

A strange statement from a 10-year-old trykette, not very tall even by her breed's standards, almost overtaken by her 5-year-old younger sister. But Grisen's eyes showed that it had been a long time since she was really a child, despite the efforts Feinigan, Haokan and Zhen had made to allow her to be carefree. Rena was better off, because they'd had her when she was just an infant, but tonight the teasing sparkle in her eyes was extinguished.

- You're all grown up, yui... But you still need an adult now and then. Except that...
- Don't worry, I'm telling you, Wawa. There's Krill, and then Zhen, and then there's the big ones too, and... anyway, we know what's dangerous, how to survive and all that. Go do what you have to do, we'll be here when you get back. You're just the biggest of his children, Wawa, and the only one who can cross the Shadow Road right now. And our job is to make sure you have a home to come back to.
- Oh, Grigri...

Yes, everyone was there tonight, and many were keen to show their sympathy. Gestures of comfort, from the most expansive like Zhen, who almost smothered him with her cuddling, to the most distant, like all those who knew that Haokan was quick to pull out the axe and get annoyed when he felt too much pressure.

And it was too much. Too much for him. Too many people, too much attention, and no room to express his grief. He finally raised the bhyr in his hand to ask to speak (slipped in by a tryker either being facetious or unaware of Haokan's distaste for alcohol of any kind). And found himself dumbfounded by the silence. He just wanted to save himself, not make a speech. He had the pact at his fingertips, but...

A little phrase from Feinigan, in his last letter, kept running through his mind. A sentence that fitted in well with the present moment. The tryker's last demand.

In front of his stunned relatives, Haokan raised the bhyr higher, as if to toast the departed, then swallowed it in one gulp. He couldn't hold back the grimace of disgust and the shudder of his body taking offense at the bitterness produced, but Feinigan had told him to drink to his memory when the call of the Void was strong, so...

And that gave him the strength to speak:
- Ukio, ukio. Here's to... well... to the memories of my friend! A pain in the ass to the end. I must leave you now, I have a long journey ahead of me, with our guest of honor. And born, I don't feel like company. But there's still bokuu of bhyr and victuals, so please, keep the party going for me, so that laughter accompanies us on this beginning of the road. Ari'kami for coming, all of you.

He reinstalled the body on the mektoub and set off in the direction of the Loria. Zhen quickly joined him:
- Not so fast, wait for me. I've had too much to drink, haha, you'll have to give me a moment.
- Guzu, Zhen. No, not there. I really want to be alone. Which means without you too.
- But, zaki...

Haokan paused for a moment, just long enough for her husband to reach her. He took him in his arms, gave him a big, passionate moai, before pushing him away with tenderness:
- Guzu, zaki. But if you come with me, you'll distract me. There are bokuu of days when that's fine. But right now, I really need to make this last journey with... him... Ukio? To get through this grief so he doesn't stay with me forever, and to cross Atys to do it.

Zhen's sad look was eloquent. Yet he also understood what Haokan was asking. Caressing his mask tenderly, the Illuminated One clarified:
- Ukio, it's your way. If you need anything, you send me an izam. Even if it's just for a hug on the way, okay? Especially for a hug...
- All right. I promise. I will. Take care of the kids for me. Don't let them taste your candy! I'll be back. But I'll need some time.
- If you take too long, I'll come and get you. He didn't want you to get depressed.
- I know, I know... Mata, zaki.
- Mata népuké.

#9 [fr] 

He made a detour to Avendale to load the mektoub with a few packs of bhyr. Feinigan would never embark on a journey without something to quench his thirst.

With relief, he put on his helmet for the trip across the Loria. Walking a mektoub alone here, and then into the Heretic's Masure, was hard enough, but Haokan needed to let off some steam, and the predators who thought they were getting an easy steak were dealt a few well-felt axe blows.

Haokan didn't slow down until he reached the Treasure, in the Jardin Fugace. He stopped there for a while, giving both his pet and himself time to rest. He thought back to the tales he and Feinigan had exchanged here. The tryker had dragged him in Jinovitch's footsteps, defending the theory that the tyrant had become evil only because of a failed love, and that to persist endlessly in loving someone who couldn't love you back only led to sadness, bitterness, and then gradually to the expression of our worst instincts. It wasn't a subtle parallel to the impossible love that was breaking Haokan's heart at the time, but the tryker's maneuver had backfired. The Zoraï had pointed to his relationship with Néjimbé, who obviously didn't want to hear any more about the honest trader.
- But noooo, it's not the same with Néjimbé! She loves me, I know it!
- She tied you up in a cellar for several days, then when she finally let you out, she paid guards to shoot you on sight if you came near her house.
- Bodacious love! I'm not saying it could be confusing, but I swear, if she's doing this, she must be passionate!
- And you're a troublemaker. Leave her alone.
- What, you're going to leave your matis alone?

Yes, Haokan had tried. In fact, he'd succeeded quite well. Where was he now? He wasn't supposed to think about it... that part of his life was over. But the twinge of pain was still there, the echo of the suffering that had driven him...

Before his memories could take him any further, Haokan had opened another bhyr, forcing himself to drink it all, then tossing the bottle in the direction of a javing.
- To Jinovitch's treasure... whether it was a lost love, or a very real madness.

***


His second stop was at Virginia Falls. Haokan had cried there for a while, his tears joining those of the waterfalls, thinking back to a very special moment.

This was shortly after their escapade beyond the New Lands. During this trip, which had a vague pretext (Feinigan was trying to avoid the wrath of a disgruntled client and needed a warrior to watch his back), the tryker had made a pass at him... not in a figurative way at all. It took that level of finesse to get Haokan to open his eyes, anyway. He'd let himself be taken in with pleasure, it had to be said, and this adventure had been the first real glimmer of happiness after years, each more gloomy than the last.

The merchant had described their relationship with every disparaging epithet imaginable. Just for fun, nothing serious, don't think there were any feelings involved, don't start imagining things because it was just another way of taking care of a business relationship, etc, etc. Haokan had almost believed it, until Feinigan "hired" him for an escort to Virginia Falls. There, in front of the sumptuous scenery, the tryker had indulged in a pinch of romanticism about the beauty of the landscape, and it had to be said, he really hadn't needed Haokan's axe to get around the area. And when the zorai had asked him if, by any chance, it wasn't all just an excuse for the two of them to end up in the place known as the epitome of romance, Feinigan had lost his verve for a moment. Before quickly regaining it for one of his cruel jabs. Then to turn back in front of the Zorai's pained expression.
- Don't dream, we're not getting married. Well... okal, I admit, we're having a lot of fun together. But don't get any big ideas, eh?
- I promise, I'm not imagining anything. But I wouldn't mind just enjoying the ride with you, you know?

It had taken a long time for Feinigan to admit that he cared about him. But come to think of it, Haokan had understood, long before that moment, just how much the tryker loved him. It wasn't very difficult. One of Feinigan's great secrets, which he hid behind his sometimes harsh teasing, was that he loved everyone, and some people even more than others. This was undoubtedly one of the things that had brought them together... too much love to give, more than most homins wanted, in a world where it was well thought of to slice others up.

Haokan threw a bouquet he'd bought from Natae into the Falls:
- To the love that sometimes finds it hard to express itself, let alone be heard.

***


His stopover in Pyr had been longer. There, too, was a place Feinigan watered with his hard-earned dappers. Another orphanage, taking in kids from the streets of Pyr, a place where they could find safety, a hot meal, and if need be, a little help in kicking pests in the face. The old fyros who looked after the place on a daily basis gathered the little troupe at the Forge, as promised. The ceremony here was less expansive and much smaller in number. With this limited company, Haokan felt more at ease to make a short speech, which he concluded in this way:
- For those of you who knew what a passion Feinigan could have for the Dragon, you might have expected the end of the journey to be here, purified by the Sacred Fire burning in the Forge. Which would have been a little too easy for him. Alas, we still have a long way to go, to honor all facets of this creature. According to Feinigan, the Dragon was a polymorphous being, changeable, amoral by nature, capable of the worst and the best, whose essence could only be guessed at through the many stories told about him. To believe we understood him was to have understood nothing. A force impossible to really tame, but which could nevertheless be channeled with care and humility, for a more or less long time, but by definition impermanent, like fire. I hope that most of you will stay away from the path of fyrak, and follow the more... predictable... path of the kamis. But if you ever feel like following it, remember that Feinigan, who followed the Way of Fire far better than many fyros, also managed to outwit the most unhealthy fyrakists, those who deny others the right to live and seek the Truth. And if I catch any of you messing with the wrong homins, I'll be all the harder on you for having had the best possible guide to find an acceptable path.

Seeing that he'd gotten a little carried away, Haokan resumed more gently:
- But I have no doubt that Fei has also shown you that the way of Fire is also the way of passion and inconsistency, and that if all goes to plan, you'll have a lot of fun with it.

***

No one was expecting him, and Haokan could have cut to the quick after Pyr. Yet he realized that no, here as often, he had to take his time.

His path had led him, not surprisingly, to Dyron. There, on the island in the middle of the lake, Nejimbe and a few Shadows had joined him as he grilled kebabs. There wasn't much to add, but some of them shared a few stories about the tryker, stories that of course everyone would be quick to deny if ever a guard or representative of the law happened to question them. Haokan, despite his title of Guardian of the Federation and Blessed of Ma-Duk, didn't count; after all, he'd been part of the Family for some time, and knew enough about the affairs of these troubled circles to have proved that he didn't really care as long as nobody got hurt.

It touched him to realize just how much these strange, slightly frightening homins had included him in their group. He didn't really want to be associated with their shady affairs, but being part of "something" never left him indifferent. He toasted the end of the evening, again drinking a whole bhyr in Feinigan's honor:
- To the Family, who continued to support my friend, even though you had officially banished him. And to the Shadows, for whom only the unofficial counts, and for whom Light only serves to animate Illusions.

***


The rest... the rest was difficult, yet obvious. Feinigan had expressly forbidden him to return to the Promontory of Despair. But the tryker had also spent his life demonstrating that every order, every rule, had to be questioned and the relevance of limits tested.

As Haokan made his way through the Knot of Insanity, then into the Haven of Purity (passing well clear of the kami presence and local tribes), he downed a bottle at regular intervals. It was probably the most absurd flogging he could come up with, but it had the merit of getting him to the place completely drunk. There, in that deafeningly silent little corner, facing the crimson mists of the terrible plague, he sat down and wept some more. Then he got to his feet and angrily threw a bottle as far as he could towards the goo barrier:
- Here's to you, Gami! It was me you had to take! Me!!! Not him! Come on, you traitor! Villain! Monster!

Gami didn't see fit to reply. He spent the night there, then in the morning, continued on his way to the Grove of Shadow.

***

He left the mektoub near the teleporter's kami, ignoring the fur ball's angry grunts at the goo odors of its cargo. Then he checked all his warrior gear, leaving his helmet aside for once... and set off on foot for the Antekami camp.

His intentions were obvious. The patrol he came across hesitated for a moment, which Haokan took advantage of to throw a heavy punch at the first of the group. A free-for-all ensued; as is often the case with Antekamis, one had received a blow intended for the Kamiste, returned it to another, and everyone was fighting everyone else within a minute or two.

- Get that idiot!" shouted the patrol leader.

But Haokan hadn't counted on this kind of ending. Biting and punching, he annoyed his opponents so much that one of them finally dealt him a fatal blow.

He woke up at the foot of the teleporter. Stretching painfully, he chuckled:
- Some people need to be yelled at right now...

Then to the silent body on the mektoub:
- Yui, I know, it was free... But you have to admit that the tour wouldn't have been complete without breaking a few cousins' masks.

Haokan took over the reins of the mektoub, and passed through the vortex, feeling a little refreshed.

#10 [fr] 

The ceremony was well attended. The beach was packed. As many concerned by the couriers sent as the curious ignoramuses there to take advantage of an opportunity to celebrate, because yes Grisen wanted this moment to be festive, if the quantity of beer that had just been delivered to the brewer improvised on the beach for the event was anything to go by.
Yet neither he nor Ylang'Hao had received a single letter or announcement from Hao'Kan about the ceremony. Fortunately, the Zoraï underestimated the discretion and speed with which news could spread through the lakes. Or was it that all this was disturbing him?

In any case, Jazzy was there, present, some fifty meters behind. Why was he there? He didn't know himself! As if hoping for answers to his questions. Jazzy's mind was often preoccupied with homins whose behavior escaped his comprehension. Zhen, Hao'Kan, MazéYum, Ki'Gan, Giasuki...
As Grisen began his speech, Jazzy chuckled, thinking that he really did have a problem with Zoraïs. No one was paying any attention to the famous citizen who had landed in the shelter of a Flyner shoot whose leaf was low enough to conceal the hominin.

What did Feinigan have in mind when he challenged Jazzy on the arm of Giasuki, recognized as dangerous and wanted by the Theocracy and the Federation at the time?
Grisen was explaining that Feinigan was a good man, although he did like to tease certain people. Was this teasing, or was Grisen still naive?
Showing off in the simplest of outfits on the Avendale terrace with Giasuki to provoke the guard by displaying obscene gestures. What a fool the commander said!
After that, he was forgotten by the Federation and the guards, which was a good thing. His return to the lakes with Zhen and Hao'Kan didn't bode well, but Jazzy was a great believer in second chances.
Although his wife wanted to kill him with her bare hands, convinced that he was responsible for her son's physical and spiritual estrangement, Jazzy had tried to prevent Hao'Kan, Feinigan and Zhen by condemning them to exile from the lakes.
Once again, Jazzy chuckled as he finally made his last journey surrounded by the Tryker people, before the stunned eyes of the Trykeri with mug in hand.

His questions would remain unanswered forever, and Jazzy already regretted it. He had understood, too late this time, that it was always necessary to meet one's enemies over a beer to understand their actions without necessarily accepting them...

There was no need to stay any longer, that damn tryker was gone for good and he didn't want to be seen here. As he went on his way, he saw Hao'Kan finish a seemingly serious conversation with Grisen before leaving before everyone else... it was a difficult moment that Jazzy could understand with some difficulty.

Damn Tryker! What were you thinking...?
Ciao Tala...

---

Jazzy Mac'Plantey
Chef de Bai Nhori Drakani
Commandant de Bai Trykali
Citoyen célèbre

#11 [fr] 

When Krill had overheard Zhen and Grigri talking about a picnic on the beach, she hadn't immediately understood what they had in mind. It was only when she arrived at the place and on the day, with the promised Avendale byrh, that she realized. Farewell to Fei.
She shrugged to herself, placed the barrel in a comfortable spot and settled in, waiting to see what would happen. Knowing the honest shopkeeper, there was a chance that his funeral would be a happy mess. A not inconsiderable chance, in fact, so she was going to stay a while. At least as long as the barrel lasted.

In the end, the ceremony went as smoothly as planned. With seriousness, thankfully not too long speeches, and a lot of laughter. Especially when you're a Trykette who likes to laugh at just about everything.
Haokan had held his own, more or less. Krill had seen him at the bar often enough, given that he spent a considerable amount of time there for someone who didn't like byrh, to be able to estimate his stress level at a glance. And right now, it was high, very very high. But it was funny to see that he hadn't put on his helmet, and that he'd tried to be a stable point for the marmaille present. Krill had been more than a little surprised when she'd discovered that Fei had decided to look after children, and even more surprised that he'd managed to convince Hao and Zhen to lend him a hand. That was quite a feat.

And then, Grigri had found her, when the barrel was almost empty, dragging behind her a matted Trykette who must have been... Krill was terrible at estimating children's ages. Four? Six? Seven? Younger than Grigri, that's for sure. And less mature, too, which meant a lot less fun from her point of view. But hey, she'd more or less promised that the two of them could find refuge and advice with her if they wanted. And that's how she'd made the acquaintance of Rena who, from Trykette's comforter view, may well have been the only one of the whole gang who could actually have called the honest trader Papa. Did the two Zoraïs know? Well, that was their problem, after all.
Grigri had made an enthusiastic and almost dithyrambic presentation of his great friend, Rena had been duly impressed, and then everyone had finally parted, not without finishing the barrel. And Krill had laughed out loud when he heard Grigri forbid Rena to touch the byrh, and the little one still protesting as she left that she wasn't that little.

---

Peu importe que la chope soit à moitié vide ou à moitié pleine, tant qu'on a le tonneau.

#12 [fr] 

On the Route des Ombres, he had made a detour to the Pyromancers' to stock up on supplies and see if he could trust Xymolaus' niece. Given what he was carrying, she introduced herself, offering him some company.

- I don't feel like company. Can we meet there?
- I won't be far. But I'd be surprised if you stayed alone for the rest of the trip.

She stayed about a hundred yards away from him as they made their way up into the Elusive Forest. It annoyed him to see her out of the corner of his eye, but this wasn't his territory, and the Primes had their own rules. After the Low Hills, she was overtaken by a tryker in characteristic Chlorogoos garb, who chatted with her for a moment, before striding to her side. Haokan thought she remembered that the two tribes didn't much like each other, but these two must have shared a secret relationship that would have made Feinigan smile.

As he reached the Wind Gate, he hesitated. He felt the Void strike hard at his heart. An almost irresistible urge to stay there, to not move, until the water falling from the ceiling calcified him in place, invaded him stronger and stronger. The other two moved closer to see what was troubling the Zorai. Under the rain of sap that hid his tears, he murmured:
- I can't remember... the Black Ring room, or the Ruins?

The two looked at each other for a moment, then the tryker declared:
- La Salle. That's... that's where the rites were performed, and there's less risk of the Shapers seeing us. The Babes will let us know if they send out a patrol.
- Ukio. The room, then.

With effort, Haokan forced himself to take one step, then another, towards the ancient area. Today, he had the impression of hearing the voices of ghosts whispering in the interlacing hills, the souls of the homins who died here holding a syrupy concert. But perhaps it was only the lamentations of the cutes and the boos of the vorax.

He pulled out a fire starter once he was there, but the Pyromancer laughed softly:
- It's a funeral pyre you want, not roasting marshmallows... Let us handle this.

In just a few hours, they had collected a large pile of strange, amber-colored pieces of wood. For his part, Haokan had unloaded his mektoub, then untied the bandages that had protected the body. For a long moment, he contemplated the face of his beloved tryker, frozen in the amber of the stance. Where had Feinigan come up with this method of preserving such a great "object "**? No matter. Over time, this snoop must have unearthed all the Bark's secrets, not just the dubious gossip. The spell had held up well, with the seals guaranteeing that it had not been tampered with.

Finally, he placed the body, still surrounded by its amber barrier, on the pyre finally erected.

- It won't burn that kind of amber, Haokan," clarified the fyros.
- I'll open the Stance once the fire is lit. Is there nothing else to do? Just light the fire and wait until it goes out?
- It's going to take time, but yes. Everything's safe, there's no reason for it to burn any more, and just in case, we're here.
- Born. You can wait outside, but not here.
- But...
- Light that fire and GET THE FUCK OUT! GET OUT!

The two fyrakists exchanged glances. It was no use arguing with that bodoc head, everyone on Atys knew: when he had an idea in mind, it was hard to change his mind. The pyromancer clicked her lighter, while the chlorogoo mumbled phrases in an ancient tongue, then they moved away as the flames licked the wood.

Haokan cast the spell allowing the amber to lose its rigidity and open up. The smell of goo immediately became pervasive, mingling with the smell of smoke from the strange wood and causing the Zorai to hiccup with nausea. Holding back his retching, he headed for the mektoub's saddlebags left in a corner of the room (the poor beast having preferred to flee at the first sign of fire, and nobody having stopped him). He rummaged around without finding anything relevant other than alcohol. At this point... He emptied a few bottles, without the smell of bhyr really overpowering the rest, mingling now with a most arresting smell of rotting meat cooking, which finished him off. He unloaded his entire meal from the day before, and no doubt from the day before, into a corner of the room.

- TOUB, FEI !!!!

A less stubborn hominin than Haokan would probably have run off at that point. He persisted, emptying one bhyr after another as he contemplated the roaring fire, sobbing and screaming between cataleptic fits.

***



Was it the fumes, the alcohol abuse, the madness into which the Zorai was plunging or... something else? As he lay half-unconscious beside the half-burnt pyre, he felt a familiar presence at his side. Turning his head, he gazed at a mask he couldn't have forgotten for all the zun in the world: the broken horns, the surface like badly sanded, reshaped wood. And those festering wounds on the homine's body, with purplish ichor running through her clothes...

He said nothing at first, content to stare at Celle who couldn't be there, who herself was gazing at the flames, her mask as serene as a nightmare vision like this could be. Then he stammered, his speech pasty from bhyr abuse:
- You died. You couldn't...
- Of course, Mayu'kyo. But death is not the end. There is no death in our world.

The warrior tried to stand up, struggling against the heaviness of his limbs and the dizziness that seized him:
- You... won't... have it...
- We've already had it.

She laughed a discordant laugh, in a husky voice that seemed to be the voice of several beings:
- Yui, we've had it... more than we could have imagined.

She flicked Haokan's mask, and he collapsed with a cry of terror at the sight of the purple claws that had just touched him.
- Peace, Mayu'kyo," declared one of its voices. We come to greet the Dragon who flies away from this land of suffering... that's all.
- You... don't...
- Keep it? No. There are many we would have liked to keep... There are also many who escape us. And because we're in the Darkness, Mayu'kyo, we can tell you: it doesn't matter. We'll win in the end. It's not the last seeds of life that will change this destiny.

She contemplated the Zoraï at her feet, sprawled there in a parody of veneration only due to his present weakness.
- He was... magnificent. He paid the price, for you and for them. For that...

Once again, she pointed one of her claws at Haokan's mask, where the seed of life was said to be hidden, and whispered:
- We hope you pay tribute to his legacy. And who knows? Maybe one day you too will know how to fly.

The great warrior groaned in terror, feeling like a little child again, lost in the face of death. He closed his eyes. Perhaps he even fainted. When he opened them again, an infinite time later, he was alone.

Feeling a little more able to move, he stood up and contemplated the pyre, which was now a pile of embers. The heat was still intense, making it impossible to approach.

He was alone. He was alone. The body had been reduced to ashes, and Gami, if she had been anything other than a hallucination, had disappeared. Haokan struggled to his feet, searching through the mess he'd laid out until he found a bhyr he'd missed. He poured the contents into the brazier:

- Wherever you are... I hope you find some good stuff to drink.

As the alcohol came into contact with the embers, it projected a great tongue of flame that made Haokan jump, although he hadn't anticipated this effect. Then he burst out laughing at what sounded like a response from his crazy little dragon.

- All the way, eh?

#13 [fr] 

The fire was long extinguished by now. When the chlorogoo and the pyromancer approached, they saw the Zoraï absolutely motionless, clad only in boxer shorts, covered head to toe in ashes. They called to him, then shook him, but failed to elicit the slightest response.

- So, what do we do with it?
- He's been here for three days, and I'm going to find out how long it's been since he's had a drink of water. At some point his kami will call him back.

The word "kami" seemed to awaken something in the flesh statue. Haokan rose to his feet with a blank stare, leaving all his belongings behind, and left the room, followed by the two homins who couldn't come up with a real answer.

They followed him as the bereaved man made his way back down the shadow road, unwittingly avoiding the various predators, as catatonic as ever. They stopped at the vortex of the Bosquet de l'Ombre, leaving him to continue on his way, wherever he was going.

- This guy is really nuts.
- What, that surprises you? Everyone knows it. But we had a hell of a time proving it.

***



How had he crossed the Primes, then the Jungle? He had no memory of it. But the camp awakened something in him. Homins crowded around him, but he was unable to answer their questions, let alone understand them. One word, however, cut through the haze he was in.

"Zhen".

He clung to it, shouting back:
- Zhen!

And on to the camp, where Zhen had to be... had to be. The homins guided him, ushered him into a tent and spoke kindly to him. It wasn't Zhen who was in front of him, but a matisse. He knew her... It was impossible to remember who she was or what her name was. Her voice was soft, enveloping, tender. Like a mother's voice. The mention of his mother made Haokan jump. He shouldn't be here! His Mi wouldn't be happy!

The hands around him became more constraining, forcing him to sit back down, then open his mouth to swallow the candy the matisse slid down his throat.

- Come on, Haokan, let yourself go... You'll see, everything will be better in a few moments," the Matisse whispered tenderly. You'll finally feel at peace... a deep peace.

Lulled by the hypnotic inflections and the discreet spell that chained him, Haokan finally gave in. Here, he was safe... here, with his zaki's family. And Zhen was coming. He'd be here when he woke up... then everything would be totally fine.
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