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Legends from the End of Time - Legends from the End of Time: Elric at the End of Time

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Elric at the End of Time
BY MICHAEL MOORCOCK
Book Five of the End of Time
Book One of Elric Apocryphal Storyes

For Terry Pratchett

1 In which Mrs Persson Detects an Above Average Degree of Chaos in the Megaflow

Returning from China to London and the Spring of 1936, Una Persson found an unfamiliar quality of pathos in most of the friends she had last seen, as far as she recalled, during the Blitz on her way back from 1970. Then they had been desperately hearty: it was a comfort to understand that the condition was not permanent. Here, at present, Pierrot ruled and she felt she possessed a better grip on her power. This was, she admitted with shame, her favourite moral climate for it encouraged in her an enormously gratifying sense of spiritual superiority: the advantage of having been born, originally, into a later and probably more sophisticated age. The 1960s. Some women, she reflected, were forced to have children in order to enjoy this pleasure.
But she was uneasy, so she reported to the local Time Centre and the bearded, sullen features of Sergeant Alvarez who welcomed her in white, apologizing for the fact that he had himself only just that morning left the Lower Devonian and had not had time to change.
"It's the megaflow, as you guessed, " he told her, operating toggles to reveal his crazy display systems. "We've lost control."
"We never really had it." She lit a Sherman's and shook her long hair back over the headrest of the swivel chair, opening her military overcoat and loosening her webbing. "Is it worse than usual?"
"Much." He sipped cold coffee from his battered silver mug. "It cuts through every plane we can pick up a rogue current swerving through the dimensions. Something of a twister."
"Jerry?"
"He's dormant. We checked. But it's like him, certainly. Most probably another aspect."
"Oh, sod." Una straightened her shoulders.
"That's what I thought, " said Alvarez. "Someone's going to have to do a spot of rubato." He studied a screen. It was Greek to Una. For a moment a pattern formed. Alvarez made a note. "Yes. It can either be fixed at the nadir or the zenith. It's too late to try anywhere in between. I think it's up to you, Mrs P."
She got to her feet. "Where's the zenith?"
"The End of Time."
"Well, " she said, "that's something."
She opened her bag and made sure of her jar of instant coffee. It was the one thing she couldn't get at the End of Time.
"Sorry, " said Alvarez, glad that the expert had been there and that he could remain behind.
"It's just as well, " she said. "This period's no good for my moral well-being. I'll be off, then."
"Someone's got to." Alvarez failed to seem sympathetic. "It's Chaos out there."
"You don't have to tell me."
She entered the make-shift chamber and was on her way to the End of Time.

2 In which The Eternal Champion Finds Himself at the End of Time

Elric of Melnibone shook a bone-white fist at the greedy, glaring stars the eyes of all those men whose souls he had stolen to sustain his own enfeebled body. He looked down. Though it seemed he stood on something solid, there was only more blackness falling away below him. It was as if he hung at the centre of the universe. And here, too, were staring points of yellow light. Was he to be judged?
His half-sentient runesword, Stormbringer, in its scabbard on his left hip, murmured like a nervous dog.
He had been on his way to Imrryr, to his home, to reclaim his kingdom from his cousin Yyrkoon; sailing from the Isle of the Purple Towns where he had guested with Count Smiorgan Baldhead. Magic winds had caught the Filkharian trader as she crossed the unnamed water between the Vilmirian peninsula and the Isle of Melnibone. She had been borne into the Dragon Sea and thence to The Sorcerer's Isle, so-called because that barren place had been the home of Cran Liret, the Thief of Spells, a wizard infamous for his borrowings, who had, at length, been dispatched by those he sought to rival. But much residual magic had been left behind. Certain spells had come into the keeping of the Krettii, a tribe of near-brutes who had migrated to the island from the region of The Silent Land less than fifty years before. Their shaman, one Grrodd Ybene Eenr, had made unthinking use of devices buried by the dying sorcerer as the spells of his peers sucked life and sanity from them. Elric had dealt with more than one clever wizard, but never with so mindless a power. His battle had been long and exhausting and had required the sacrifice of most of the Filkharians as well as the entire tribe of Krettii. His sorcery had become increasingly desperate. Sprite fought sprite, devil fell upon devil, in planes both physical and astral, all around the region of The Sorcerer's Isle. Eventually Elric had mounted a massive Summoning against the allies of Grrodd Ybene Eenr with the result that the shaman had been at last overwhelmed and his remains scattered in Limbo. But Elric, captured by his own monstrous magickings, had followed his enemy and now he stood in the Void, crying out into appalling silence, hearing his words only in his skull:
"Arioch! Arioch! Aid me! "
But his patron Duke of Hell was absent. He could not exist here. He could not, for once, even hear his favourite protege.
"Arioch! Repay my loyalty! I have given you blood and souls! "
He did not breathe. His heart had stopped. All his movements were sluggish.
The eyes looked down at him. They looked up at him. Were they glad? Did they rejoice in his terror?
"Arioch! "
He yearned for a reply. He would have wept, but no tears would come. His body was cold; less than dead, yet not alive. A fear was in him greater than any fear he had known before.
"Oh, Arioch! Aid me! "
He forced his right hand towards the pulsing pommel of Stormbringer which, alone, still possessed energy. The hilt of the sword was warm to his touch and, as slowly he folded his fingers around it, it seemed to swell in his fist and propel his arm upwards so that he did not draw the sword. Rather the sword forced his limbs into motion. And now it challenged the void, glowing with black fire, singing its high, gleeful battlesong.
"Our destinies are intertwined, Stormbringer, " said Elric. "Bring us from this place, or those destinies shall never be fulfilled."
Stormbringer swung like the needle of a compass and Elric's unfeeling arm was wrenched round to go with it. In eight directions the sword swung, as if to the eight points of Chaos. It was questing like a hound sniffing a trail. Then a yell sounded from within the strange metal of the blade; a distant cry of delight, it seemed to Elric. The sound one would hear if one stood above a valley listening to children playing far below.
Elric knew that Stormbringer had sensed a plane they might reach. Not necessarily their own, but one which would accept them. And, as a drowning mariner must yearn for the most inhospitable rock rather than no rock at all, Elric yearned for that plane.
"Stormbringer. Take us there! "
The sword hesitated. It moaned. It was suspicious.
"Take us there! " whispered the albino to his runesword.
The sword struck back and forth, up and down, as if it battled invisible enemies. Elric scarcely kept his grip on it. It seemed that Stormbringer was frightened of the world it had detected and sought to drive it back but the act of seeking had in itself set them both in motion. Already Elric could feel himself being drawn through the darkness, towards something he could see very dimly beyond the myriad eyes, as dawn reveals clouds undetected in the night sky.
Elric thought he saw the shapes of crags, pointed and crazy. He thought he saw water, flat and ice-blue. The stars faded and there was snow beneath his feet, mountains all around him, a huge, blazing sun overhead and above that another landscape, a desert, as a magic mirror might reflect the contrasting character of he who peered into it a desert, quite as real as the snowy peaks in which he crouched, sword in hand, waiting for one of these landscapes to fade so that he might establish, to a degree, his bearings. Evidently the two planes had intersected.
But the landscape overhead did not fade. He could look up and see sand, mountains, vegetation, a sky which met his own sky at a point halfway along the curve of the huge sun and blended with it. He looked about him. Snowy peaks in all directions. Above desert everywhere. He felt dizzy, found that he was staring downwards, reaching to cup some of the snow in his hand. It was ordinary snow, though it seemed reluctant to melt in contact with his flesh.
"This is a world of Chaos, " he muttered. "It obeys no natural laws." His voice seemed loud, amplified by the peaks, perhaps. "That is why you did not want to come here. This is the world of powerful rivals."
Stormbringer was silent, as if all its energy were spent. But Elric did not sheath the blade. He began to trudge through the snow towards what seemed to be an abyss. Every so often he glanced upward, but the desert overhead had not faded, sun and sky remained the same. He wondered if he walked around the surface of a miniature world. That if he continued to go forward he might eventually reach the point where the two landscapes met. He wondered if this were not some punishment wished upon him by his untrustworthy allies of Chaos. Perhaps he must choose between death in the snow or death in the desert. He reached the edge of the abyss and looked down.
The walls of the abyss fell for all of five feet before reaching a floor of gold and silver squares which stretched for perhaps another seven feet before they reached the far wall, where the landscape continued snow and crags uninterrupted.
"This is undoubtedly where Chaos rules, " said the Prince of Melnibone. He studied the smooth, chequered floor. It reflected parts of the snowy terrain and the desert world above it. It reflected the crimson-eyed albino who peered down at it, his features drawn in bewilderment and tiredness.
"I am at their mercy, " said Elric. "They play with me. But I shall resist them, even as they destroy me." And some of his wild, careless spirit came back to him as he prepared to lower himself onto the chequered floor and cross to the opposite bank.
He was halfway over when he heard a grunting sound in the distance and a beast appeared, its paws slithering uncertainly on the smooth surface, its seven savage eyes glaring in all directions as if it sought the instigator of its terrible indignity.
And, at last, all seven eyes focused on Elric and the beast opened a mouth in which row upon row of thin, vicious teeth were arranged, and uttered a growl of unmistakable resentment.
Elric raised his sword. "Back creature of Chaos. You threaten the Prince of Melnibone! "
The beast was already propelling itself towards him. Elric flung his body to one side, aiming a blow with the sword as he did so, succeeding only in making a thin incision in the monster's heavily muscled hind leg. It shrieked and began to turn.
"Back! "
Elric's voice was the brave, thin squeak of a lemming attacked by a hawk. He drove at the thing's snout with Stormbringer. The sword was heavy. It had spent all its energy and there was no more to give. Elric wondered why he, himself, did not weaken. Possibly the laws of nature were entirely abolished in the Realm of Chaos. He struck and drew blood. The beast paused, more in astonishment than fear.
Then it opened its jaws, pushed its back legs against the snowy bank, and shot towards the albino who tried to dodge it, lost his footing, and fell, sprawling backwards, on the gold and silver surface.

3 In which Una Persson Discovers an Unexpected Snag

The gigantic beetle, rainbow carapace glittering, turned as if into the wind, which blew from the distant mountains, its thick, flashing wings beating rapidly as it bore its single passenger over the queer landscape.
On its back Mrs Persson checked the instruments on her wrist. Ever since Man had begun to travel in time it had become necessary for the Guild to develop techniques to compensate for the fluctuations and disruptions in the space-time continua; perpetually monitoring the chronoflow and megaflow. She pursed her lips. She had picked up the signal. She made the semi-sentient beetle swing a degree or two SSE and head directly for the mountains. She was in some sort of enclosed (but vast) environment. These mountains, as well as everything surrounding them, lay in the territory most utilized by the gloomy, natural-born Werther de Goethe, poet and romantic, solitary seeker after truth in a world no longer differentiating between the degrees of reality. He would not remember her, she knew, because, as far as Werther was concerned, they had not met yet. Had Werther even experienced his adventure with Mistress Christia, the Everlasting Concubine? A story on which she had dined out more than once, in duller eras.
The mountains drew closer. From here it was possible to see the entire arrangement (a creation of Werther's very much in character): a desert landscape, a central sun, and, inverted above it, winter mountains. Werther strove to make statements, like so many naive artists before him, by presenting simple contrasts: The World is Bleak/The World is Cold/Barren am I As I Grow Old/Tomorrow I Die, Entombed in Cold/For Silver My Poor Soul Was Sold she remembered he was perhaps the worst poet she had encountered in an eternity of meetings with bad poets. He had taught himself to read and write in old, old English so that he might carve those words on one of his many abandoned tombs (half his time was spent in composing obituaries for himself). Like so many others he seemed to equate self-pity with artistic inspiration. In an earlier age he might have discovered his public and become quite rich (self-pity passing for passion in the popular understanding). Sometimes she regretted the passing of Wheldrake, so long ago, so far away, in a universe bearing scarcely any resemblances to those in which she normally operated.
She brought her wavering mind back to the problem. The beetle dipped and circled over the desert, but there was no sight of her quarry.
She was about to abandon the search when she heard a faint roaring overhead and she looked up to see another characteristic motif of Werther's a gold and silver chessboard on which, upside down, a monstrous doglike creature was bearing down on a tiny white-haired man dressed in the most abominable taste Una had seen for some time.
She directed the air car upwards and then, reversing the machine as she entered the opposing gravity, downwards to where the barbarically costumed swordsman was about to be eaten by the beast.
"Shoo! " cried Una commandingly.
The beast raised a befuddled head.
"Shoo."
It licked its lips and returned its seven-eyed gaze to the albino, who was now on his knees, using his large sword to steady himself as he climbed to his feet.
The jaws opened wider and wider. The pale man prepared, shakily, to defend himself.
Una directed the air car at the beast's unkempt head. The great beetle connected with a loud crack. The monster's eyes widened in dismay. It yelped. It sat on its haunches and began to slide away, its claws making an unpleasant noise on the gold and silver tiles.
Una landed the air car and gestured for the stranger to enter. She noticed with distaste that he was a somewhat unhealthy looking albino with gaunt features, exaggeratedly large and slanting eyes, ears that were virtually pointed, and glaring, half-mad red pupils.
And yet, undoubtedly, it was her quarry and there was nothing for it but to be polite.
"Do, please, get in, " she said. "I am here to rescue you."
" Shaarmraaam torjistoo quellahm vyeearrr ," said the stranger in an accent that seemed to Una to be vaguely Scottish.
"Damn, " she said, "that's all we need." She had been anxious to approach the albino in private, before one of the denizens of the End of Time could arrive and select him for a menagerie, but now she regretted that Werther or perhaps Lord Jagged were not here, for she realized that she needed one of their translation pills, those tiny tablets which could "engineer" the brain to understand a new language. By a fluke or perhaps because of her presence here so often the people at the End of Time currently spoke formal early twentieth-century English.
The albino who wore a kind of tartan divided kilt, knee-length boots, a blue and white jerkin, a green cloak and a silver breastplate, with a variety of leather belts and metal buckles here and there upon his person was vehemently refusing her offer of a lift. He raised the sword before him as he backed away, slipped once, reached the bank, scrambled through snow and disappeared behind a rock.
Mrs Persson sighed and put the car into motion again.

4 In which The Prince of Melnibone Encounters Further Terrors

Xiombarg herself, thought Elric as he slid beneath the snows into the cave. Well, he would have no dealings with the Queen of Chaos; not until he was forced to do so.
The cave was large. In the thin light from the gap above his head he could not see far. He wondered whether to return to the surface or risk going deeper into the cave. There was always the hope that he would find another way out. He was attempting to recall some rune that would aid him, but all he knew depended either upon the aid of elementals who did not exist on this plane, or upon the Lords of Chaos themselves and they were unlikely to come to his assistance in their own realm. He was marooned here: the single mouse in a world of cats.
Almost unconsciously, he found himself moving downwards, realizing that the cave had become a tunnel. He was feeling hungry but, apart from the monster and the woman in the magical carriage, had seen no sign of life. Even the cavern did not seem entirely natural.
It widened; there was phosphorescent light. He realized that the walls were of transparent crystal and, behind the walls, were all manner of artefacts. He saw crowns, sceptres and chains of precious jewels; cabinets of complicated carving; weapons of strangely turned metal; armour, clothing, things whose use he could not guess and food. There were sweetmeats, fruits, flans and pies, all out of reach.
Elric groaned. This was torment. Perhaps deliberately planned torment. A thousand voices whispered to him in a beautiful, alien language.
"Bie-meee Bie-meee " the voices murmured. " Baa-gen baa-gen "
They seemed to be promising every delight, if only he could pass through the walls; but they were of transparent quartz, lit from within. He raised Stormbringer, half-tempted to try to break down the barrier, but he knew that even his sword was, at its most powerful, incapable of destroying the magic of Chaos.
He paused, gasping with astonishment at a group of small dogs which looked at him with large brown eyes, tongues lolling, and jumped up at him.
"O, Nee Tubbens! " intoned one of the voices.
"Gods! " screamed Elric. "This torture is too much! " He swung his body this way and that, threatening with his sword, but the voices continued to murmur and promise, displaying their riches but never allowing him to touch.
The albino panted. His crimson eyes glared about him. "You would drive me insane, eh? Well, Elric of Melnibone has witnessed more frightful threats than this. You will need to do more if you would destroy his mind! "
And he ran through the whispering passages, looking to neither his right nor his left, until, quite suddenly, he had run into blazing daylight and stood staring down into pale infinity a blue and endless void.
He looked up. And he screamed.
Overhead were the gentle hills and dales of a rural landscape, with rivers, grazing cattle, woods and cottages. He expected to fall, headlong, but he did not. He was on the brink of the abyss. The cliff-face of red sandstone fell immediately below and then was the tranquil void. He looked back:
"Baa-gen O, Nee Tubbens "
A bitter smile played about the albino's bloodless lips as, decisively, he sheathed his sword.
"Well, then, " he said. "Let them do their worst! "
And, laughing, he launched himself over the brink of the cliff.

5 In which Werther de Goethe Makes a Wonderful Discovery

With a gesture of quiet pride, Werther de Goethe indicated his gigantic skull.
"It is very large, Werther, " said Mistress Christia, the Everlasting Concubine, turning a power ring to adjust the shade of her eyes so that they perfectly matched the day.
"It is monstrous, " said Werther modestly. "It reminds us all of the Inevitable Night."
"Who was that?" enquired golden-haired Gaf the Horse in Tears, at present studying ancient legendry. "Sir Lew Grady?"
"I mean Death, " Werther told him, "which overwhelms us all."
"Well, not us, " pointed out the Duke of Queens, as usual a trifle literal minded. "Because we're immortal, as you know."
Werther offered him a sad, pitying look and sighed briefly. "Retain your delusions, if you will."
Mistress Christia stroked the gloomy Werther's long, dark locks. "There, there, " she said. "We have compensations, Werther."
"Without Death, " intoned the Last Romantic, "there is no point to Life."
As usual, they could not follow him, but they nodded gravely and politely.
"The skull, " continued Werther, stroking the side of his air car (which was in the shape of a large flying reptile) to make it circle and head for the left eye-socket, "is a Symbol not only of our Mortality, but also of our Fruitless Ambitions."
"Fruit?" Bishop Castle, drowsing at the rear of the vehicle, became interested. His hobby was currently orchards. "Less? My pine-trees, you know, are proving a problem. The apples are much smaller than I was led to believe."
"The skull is lovely, " said Mistress Christia with valiant enthusiasm. "Well, now that we have seen it"
"The outward shell, " Werther told her. "It is what it hides which is more important. Man's Foolish Yearnings are all encompassed therein. His Greed, his Need for the Impossible, the Heat of his Passions, the Coldness which must Finally Overtake him. Through this eye-socket you will encounter a little invention of my own called The Bargain Basement of the Mind"
He broke off in astonishment.
On the top edge of the eye-socket a tiny figure had emerged.
"What's that?" enquired the Duke of Queens, craning his head back. "A random thought?"
"It is not mine at all! "
The figure launched itself into the sky and seemed to fly, with flailing limbs, towards the sun.
Werther frowned, watching the tiny man disappear. "The gravity field is reversed there, " he said absently, "in order to make the most of the paradox, you understand. There is a snowscape, a desert" But he was much more interested in the newcomer. "How do you think he got into my skull?"
"At least he's enjoying himself. He seems to be laughing." Mistress Christia bent an ear towards the thin sound, which grew fainter and fainter at first, but became louder again. "He's coming back."
Werther nodded. "Yes. The field's no longer reversed." He touched a power ring.
The laughter stopped and became a yell of rage. The figure hurtled down on them. It had a sword in one white hand and its red eyes blazed.
Hastily, Werther stroked another ring. The stranger tumbled into the bottom of the air car and lay there panting, cursing and groaning.
"How wonderful! " cried Werther. "Oh, this is a traveller from some rich, romantic past. Look at him! What else could he be? What a prize! "
The stranger rose to his feet and raised the sword high above his head, defying the amazed and delighted passengers as he screamed at the top of his voice:
"Heeshgeegrowinaz! "
"Good afternoon, " said Mistress Christia. She reached in her purse for a translation pill and found one. "I wonder if you would care to swallow this it's quite harmless"
"Yakoom, oom glallio ", said the albino contemptuously.
"Aha, " said Mistress Christia. "Well, just as you please."
The Duke of Queens pointed towards the other socket. A huge, whirring beetle came sailing from it. In its back was someone he recognized with pleasure. "Mrs Persson! "
Una brought her air car alongside.
"Is he in your charge?" asked Werther with undisguised disappointment. "If so, I could offer you"
"I'm afraid he means a lot to me, " she said.
"From your own age?" Mistress Christia also recognized Una. She still offered the translation pill in the palm of her hand. "He seems a mite suspicious of us."
"I'd noticed, " said Una. "It would be useful if he would accept the pill. However, if he will not, one of us"
"I would be happy, " offered the generous Duke of Queens. He tugged at his green and gold beard. "Werther de Goethe, Mrs Persson."
"Perhaps I had better, " said Una nodding to Werther. The only problem with translation pills was that they did their job so thoroughly. You could speak the language perfectly, but you could speak no other.
Werther was, for once, positive. "Let's all take a pill, " he suggested.
Everyone at the End of Time carried translation pills, in case of meeting a visitor from Space or the Past.
Mistress Christia handed hers to Una and found another. They swallowed.
"Creatures of Chaos, " said the newcomer with cool dignity, "I demand that you release me. You cannot hold a mortal in this way, not unless he has struck a bargain with you. And no bargain was struck which would bring me to the Realm of Chaos."
"It's actually more orderly than you'd think, " said Werther apologetically. "Your first experience, you see, was the world of my skull, which was deliberately muddled. I meant to show what Confusion was the Mind of Man"
"May I introduce Mistress Christia, the Everlasting Concubine, " said the Duke of Queens, on his best manners. "This is Mrs Persson, Bishop Castle, Gaf the Horse in Tears. Werther de Goethe your unwitting host and I am the Duke of Queens. We welcome you to our world. Your name, sir?"
"You must know me, my lord duke, " said Elric. "For I am Elric of Melnibone, Emperor by Right of Birth, Inheritor of the Ruby Throne, Bearer of the Actorios, Wielder of the Black Sword"
"Indeed! " said Werther de Goethe. In a whispered aside to Mrs Persson: "What a marvellous scowl! What a noble sneer! "
"You are an important personage in your world, then?" said Mistress Christia, fluttering the eyelashes she had just extended by half an inch. "Perhaps you would allow me"
"I think he wishes to be returned to his home, " said Mrs Persson hastily.
"Returned?" Werther was astonished. "But the Morphail Effect! It is impossible."
"Not in this case, I think, " she said. "For if he is not returned there is no telling the fluctuations which will take place throughout the dimensions"
They could not follow her, but they accepted her tone.
"Aye, " said Elric darkly, "return me to my realm, so that I may fulfil my own doom-laden destiny"
Werther looked upon the albino with affectionate delight. "Aha! A fellow spirit! I, too, have a doom-laden destiny."
"I doubt it is as doom-laden as mine." Elric peered moodily back at the skull as the two air cars fled away towards a gentle horizon where exotic trees bloomed.
"Well, " said Werther with an effort, "perhaps it is not, though I assure you"
"I have looked upon hell-born horror, " said Elric, "and communicated with the very Gods of the Uttermost Darkness. I have seen things which would turn other men's minds to useless jelly"
"Jelly?" interrupted Bishop Castle. "Do you, in your turn, have any expertise with, for instance, blackbird trees?"
"Your words are meaningless, " Elric told him, glowering. "Why do you torment me so, my lords? I did not ask to visit your world. I belong in the world of men, in the Young Kingdoms, where I seek my weird. Why, I have but lately experienced adventures"
"I do think we have one of those bores, " murmured Bishop Castle to the Duke of Queens, "so common amongst time travellers. They all believe themselves unique."
But the Duke of Queens refused to be drawn. He had developed a liking for the frowning albino. Gaf the Horse in Tears was also plainly impressed, for he had fashioned his own features into a rough likeness of Elric's. The Prince of Melnibone pretended insouciance, but it was evident to Una that he was frightened. She tried to calm him.
"People here at the End of Time" she began.
"No soft words, my lady." A cynical smile played about the albino's lips. "I know you for that great unholy temptress, Queen of the Swords, Xiombarg herself."
"I assure you, I am as human as you, sir"
"Human? I, human? I am not human, madam though I be a mortal, 'tis true. I am of older blood, the blood of the Bright Empire itself, the Blood of R'lin K'ren A'a which Cran Liret mocked, not understanding what it was he laughed at. Aye, though forced to summon aid from Chaos, I made no bargain to become a slave in your realm"
"I assure you um your majesty, " said Una, "that we had not meant to insult you and your presence here was no doing of ours. I am, as it happens, a stranger here myself. I came especially to see you, to help you escape"
"Ha! " said the albino. "I have heard such words before. You would lure me into some worse trap than this. Tell me, where is Duke Arioch? He, at least, I owe some allegiance to."

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