cloudy with a chance of dragons

Napthalia’s Meadow
Lantern Waste

You find yourself in a quiet, peaceful little meadow, sheltered to the west by the face of the Western Cliffs, and to the east by a particularly thick grove of trees. The grass grows tall and thick here, in clumps thick enough to make an enticing mouthful for any grazing beast. Between the trees and the cliffs, the meadow remains shaded enough to make it a nice, relaxing place to be.

A dragon with shimmering white scales and ice blue eyes is curled around a rusted kettle, its body a little smaller than a grown elephant. It is curiously snuffling the kettle and has a few dead birds by its right front paw.

Lanisen comes walking along the path from the north in the late evening, moving wearily. He doesn’t immediately register the absence of birdsong in the trees overhead, but he pauses uncertainly when he does, and takes another moment to turn the corner that brings him within sight of the meadow.

Dragon keeps trying to poke his nose instead the kettle, making soft churring noises. At the sound of foot falls in the grass it stops and lifts its head, tiny ears swiveling forward.

Lanisen takes a quick, startled half-step back, automatically crouching slightly and going very still. His eyes flit quickly over the dragon’s frame.

Dragon slowly rises. Its frame is lean and muscular, somewhat lengthy–although the beautful long tail that tapers to a rounded end may give it more length than it really is. Its hind and forequarters are similar in structure to a typical quadraped beast, ending in small and sharp claws. In the light of the evening, the white scales almost glow and shimmer with tiny hints of silver that form delicate, small patterns on its back. It has a musclar, lean neck that arches upward as it eyes the new arrival. Currently, the large wings are neatly folded against its back and look leathery in texture. It trills softly, blue eyes shimmering in the light and full of curiosity.

Lanisen takes a couple quick, short breaths and swallows. He keeps his eyes away from the dragon’s, carefully unchallenging and unthreatening in his posture, and very very still. “He–hello?” he ventures, in case. It comes out a croak.

Dragon slowly tilts its head to the side. It makes a soft clicking noise and begins to advance in a leisurely manner toward the new thing. Its step is light for such a large beast and its movement is graceful. Its pace is casual and its stance is not aggressive.

Lanisen flinches back slightly when the dragon begins to move, but doesn’t run. He keeps his empty hands where the dragon can see them, still showing not-a-threat with his body language, and only looks with his peripheral vision. There’s sweat beaded on his forehead.

Dragon slows as he approaches Lanisen. He immediately begins to sniff the new thing with interest making small chirping noises. He tilts his head as he examines the human and its tail swings behind it back and forth leisurely. It presses its snout against Lanisen’s hands curiously, as if seeking something.

Lanisen keeps statue-still, barely breathing.

Dragon draws its neck back in an almost elegant fashion and looks down at Lanisen. It gives a toothy smile, tail swishing and honks! Its backside reflects the enthusiasm of its wagging tail.

Lanisen breathes again when the dragon draws back and dares a more direct look at its face.

Dragon tilts its head to the other side, still grinning. It honks again!

Lanisen is standing very still on the edge of the meadow, his head lowered and his knees slightly bent, his arms loose at his sides with his empty hands visible, facing a dragon.

Dragon stands before Lanisen, a picture of terror and majesty. Its tail is currently swishing back and forth in the meadow grass, causing its hindquarters to move from its excitement as well. It has a mouthful of teeth and almost appears to be grinning. Two small ears are upright and it honks again, lowering its head and gently pushing against Lanisen’s torso.

Lanisen draws a shuddering breath and sort of folds, sinking down to the ground to protect his middle.

Dragon pulls back when Lanisen folds, its ears pressing back. His teeth disappear with the grin and it tilts its head to the side, giving a soft churring noise. It curiously pokes at Lanisen’s shoulder with his snout with a snuffling noise.

Applebud scampers along the branches of trees, jumping from one to another. At the sight of the dragon she pauses and stills. Crawling along quitely to get a better look.

Lanisen, crouching down, sways unsteadily at the poke and puts one hand on the ground for balance.

Dragon gives a low, guttural noise. It paws the ground with its front feet and looks back toward the kettle where a small pile of birds are. He turns in and bounds in a fluid series of movements toward the pile. Scooping up one of the birds, he practically prances back to Lanisen and drops the bird in front of him. He looks down at Lanisen curiously.

Pheeobe runs into the meadow, her head in the air, sniffing, “Lanisen! I smell something funn–” She stops, ears folding back at the sight of the dragon, “Funny.” She sqeaks out.

Lanisen takes the opportunity afforded him by the dragon’s brief distraction to straighten back up and back away a couple steps. At Pheeobe’s voice, he looks over his shoulder with wide eyes, and quickly back to the dragon. He breathes out, murmurs a soft expletive, and shifts slightly so that he’s between the dragon and Pheeobe. His posture is all but cringing, still showing the dragon that he doesn’t intend to attack. “All right,” he says, very quietly. “Stay back, stay back, it’s not doin’ anything, it doesn’t seem like it’s–” He blinks at the bird, lost, and looks back up at the dragon.

Dragon turns its head slowly at the new smell and voice. It tilts its head to the side, looking at Pheeobe with curiosity. It begins to turn toward her.

Pheeobe straightens up and keeps her eyes on the dragon. “Okay. Okay. Okay.” She notes Lanisen’s posture and cringes in a similar way, tail between her legs.

Applebud has taken the advantage of the everyone’s distraction to make her way over towards a tree nearby Lanisen. “What is it?”

Dragon moves over to Pheeobe and begins to sniff her with a great amount of curiosity.

Lanisen says, “Ohhh, oh Lion, Applebud, you gotta go. Go tell whoever’s on duty at the guard tower there’s a dragon in the south meadow, okay? Go quiet and slow until you’re out of sight, then quick as you can.” He keeps his voice low and even, not taking his eyes off the dragon.

Pheeobe does not move while the dragon sniffs her. She does not breathe. She even closes her eyes.

Dragon arches its neck up and honks. It gives its toothy grin, tail swishing.

Lanisen moves very slowly closer to Pheeobe and the dragon, carefully putting himself in the space between them, blocking her from view. “Hey, hey, big fellow,” he murmurs. “Look at me, okay? Look at me. Pheeobe, are you all right?”

Pheeobe looks at Lanisen and then looks back at the dragon and, slowly a grin forms. “I am fine.” She whispers, “He does not seem mean…” She peers around his shoulder to look at the Dragon.

Applebud nods seriously, if a bit confused and uncomprehending. “I didn’t even get to give it an apple.” She quietly slinks off away towards the entrance of the meadow and the guard tower.

Dragon turns its attention back to Lanisen, giving its toothy grin. Its hindquarters wiggle with excitement as its tail takes out some of the meadow grasses from its motion. It honks again!

Lanisen spares a quick glance toward Applebud as she leaves. “I don’t think so but he’s very big,” he murmurs in answer to Pheeobe, watching the lashing tail with trepidation. He lowers his head and avoids the dragon’s eyes.

Pheeobe nods and keeps her distance but smiles at the dragon. “He is actually sort of cute.” She tilts her head.

Dragon tilts its head to the side, its enthusiasm dampening. His ears flatten.

Lanisen looks rather incredulous and frustrated at this. “If I distract it, can you get away and tell the pack?” he asks quietly.

Pheeobe nods but then asks quietly, “What if it feels cornered then?”

Lanisen shakes his head very slightly, shifting his weight. “You don’t have to bring them all here, just, just tell them, they need to know.”

Dragon watches a dumb squirrel enter the meadow. It looks at Lanisen and Pheeobe and moves over to the dumb beast. It snaps at it, grabbing the squirrel and shaking it fiercely until it falls limp in its jaws.
Dragon tosses the dead squirrel into the air and devours it in a single bite.

Pheeobe watches this scene with a small grimace and nods at Lanisen, “I will go. Stay safe.” She back away carefully and very slowly till she disappears into the trees.

Lanisen watches the dragon eat, wide-eyed. He swallows and circles the meadow away from Pheeobe as she goes, clicking his tongue at the dragon to draw its attention to himself.

Dragon returns to its pile of dead birds. He begins to devour them, eating them whole. He begins to nose the rusted kettle again and tries putting his snout into it. At the sound of the clicking it looks up and back at Lanisen, tilting his head to the side.

Lanisen keeps moving with slow sideways steps until he’s on the opposite side of the meadow as the path north. “Can you understand me?” he asks, giving his voice a slight conversational lilt.

Dragon squints at him a moment, tilting his head the other way. He lowers it slightly and churrs.

Lanisen’s eyes dart past the dragon to see if Pheeobe is out of sight yet. He draws a shaky breath and focuses on the dragon again–or rather, on the ground below and slightly to the right of the dragon’s claws. “Can you, can you raise one foot if you understand me?”

Dragon stares at Lanisen curiously. It slowly moves its gaze to follow his, then looks back at Lanisen.

Lanisen blows out a breath. “All right,” he murmurs, nodding. “Well. We can, we’ll figure this out.”

Dragon watches Lanisen intently, lowering its hindquarters so its in a seated position.

Lanisen lowers himself to match, squatting with one knee on the ground. “Where did you come from,” he wonders softly.

Pheeobe comes back into the meadow, sort of outta breath. She is quiet though and comes to Lanisen, keeping her eyes on the dragon, “They are aware,” she whispers.

Dragon stretches his neck forward a little when Lanisen squats. He tilts his head to the side, ears swiveling up making a soft chirping noise. At the sound of the wolf’s voice it turns its head to look at her.

Lanisen says, “Oh, you’re, you came back.”

Pheeobe looks at Lanisen, “Did you not want me to? I can leave.”

Dragon watches another squirrel as it bounds into the meadow. He gets up and moves toward it, snapping the squirrel up in his jaws and tossing it into the air before devouring it. He begins to sniff a small cluster of flowers curiously.

Lanisen lets out a little breath of anxious laughter. “Um, it’s, he doesn’t talk, or understand, it’s… it’s dangerous.”

Pheeobe watches the dragon closely, “He seems hungry. He might need bigger food.”

Dragon watches a butterfly take off from the cluster of flowers. It lands on his nose. He shakes his head and gives a small sharp noise. A tiny stream of fire incinerates the butterfly and blackens the patch of grass where it stands. Some of it smolders a little with embers.

Lanisen stares. “All right,” he says, a little unsteady. “So that’s a, that happens.”

Pheeobe watches in horror, “Well…that isnt good.”

Dragon scrunches his face up and turns away from the charred patch, which still has a faint glow. It starts sniffing around the meadow and finds the one abandon bird carcass. It snaps it up, leaving behind a few bone fragments and brightly colored feathers.

Lanisen gets back to his feet, moving slowly and keeping himself hunched over, and crosses to stamp out the embers before they can spread.

Pheeobe keeps watching the dragon, ears listening for any false sound

Dragon snuffles around the meadow, as if looking for something. A low growl issues from its stomach.

Lanisen watches the dragon, then looks at Pheeobe. He beckons toward the path out of the meadow and begins to move that way silently while the dragon is distracted.

Pheeobe notes Lanisen’s directions and does the same.

Dragon lifts off without warning and disappears into the sky

Lanisen scrambles back to the dubious shelter of an oak tree as the dragon spreads its wings.

Pheeobe stares up at the sky, mesmerized as the dragon takes off and flies away.

Lanisen says urgently, “Okay, okay, let’s go, come on.”

Pheeobe looks to Lanisen at his tone and nods.

Lanisen hurries toward the northern edge of the meadow, Pheeobe in tow. He looks shaken, but his face is set.

Meka is sleeping in a tree when she hears hurried footsteps below. she yawns and squints down at the ground. Still halfway asleep, she leaps to a lower branch with a small crash as one next to it breaks.

Jana comes through the woods at a brisk jog, skirts gathered up in one hand to expose her knees.

Lanisen startles and shies to the side as the branch falls down. “Oh, oh,” he says, realizing, and hurries to the tree. “Miss, excuse me, miss, you gotta– there’s, um, there’s a dragon about? Go, um–” He hesitates. “The– the caves, the caves west of the gathering circle, go there!”

Pheeobe looks at Lanisen and frowns, “Are you going to be okay? He didnt hurt anything…except that butterfly.”

Meka blinks a few times and hops to the ground, trying to jar herself out of naptime fog. “A dragon? What?” She looks at him. “Lanisen, right. You saw it? Where? Are you sure it’s going to harm something. I mean she did say it just hurt a butterfly… That’s not hard to do.” She hops between Pheeobe’s paws.

Pheeobe nods and smiles down at Meka.

Lanisen looks a bit helpless, but rallies. “It hasn’t hurt anything, and I don’t– It didn’t seem like it wanted to, but it’s…” He moistens his lips. “It’s very big, and it doesn’t understand speech, and I’m afraid it may hurt somebody by accident; it’s not /safe/ just ’cause it don’t mean any harm.” He turns at the sound of running, and his shoulders drop with visible relief. “Jana,” he says, too distracted to use the right name, and hurries to meet her.

Pheeobe tilts her head at Lanisen when he greets Adara. She looks down again at Meka and grins widely, “I might be okay to travel a little lower just in case though.”

Meka giggles at Pheeobe. “We can do that. I don’t want you in a tree again.” Her expression and posture indicate she’s not that afraid of a dragon. She tilts her head in the direction of the daughter of Eve and nods.

Jana stops at the sight of the scorched earth, but only for a moment. “Which way,” she demands.

Pheeobe grins, “I am fairly grounded at the moment.”

Lanisen points helplessly in a general northwest direction. “It took off, it’s flyin’ somewhere. Um, I think it was hungry, I think it’s huntin’.” Meka taps Pheeobe’s paw with her own. “It would appear so. Are you going to the caves? Or looking for the dragon? Or going home?”

Jana sucks her teeth, concludes, “The juneberry thicket,” and heads that way.

Lanisen follows after her, jogging a couple steps. “We saw it, it ate a squirrel, an ordinary one, but it didn’t bother Pheeobe or me, but it doesn’t understand speech so I don’t know that it would– know the difference.”

In Lantern Waste
Lantern Waste

Lantern Waste is a dense and varied woodland. It consists predominantly of oak and white pine trees, with a variety of other groves growing here and there. Down here the undergrowth is quite thick, making it rather hard to see any distinct paths leading in any particular direction. Above you, the blue sky and bright sunlight are barely visible through the thick canopy of leaves overhead.

There is a dense clump of undergrowth here in the form of a Juneberry thicket. Its suckered branches twist and tangle up about six feet from the ground, making it a rather large tangle. There’s an opening near its base with lots of smaller footprints leading in and out.

Jana just nods, saving her breath to move quickly.

Lanisen keeps talking, the words tumbling out too fast, hurrying along behind her. “It wasn’t, it wasn’t– it was interested in things, it wasn’t tryin’ to– It didn’t hurt me, it sniffed, it sniffed me and I, um, I curled up like you’re supposed to with a bear but it didn’t hurt me, it didn’t even try, and it didn’t hurt Pheeobe, I don’t think it wants to hurt people–”

Jana says, “It’s a dumb beast. It wants to eat things.”

Lanisen draws a breath. “It was almost, it was tryin’, it was tryin’ to understand me, it’s smart, it’s not– it don’t talk but it’s as smart as– a, a dog, or a horse, I guess, or more.”

Jana says, “Yeah. Dogs eat things.”

Lanisen rubs a shaking hand over his mouth and subsides, focusing on keeping up with her.

Jana watches the sky as she runs, frowning. She stops at the thicket, which is untouched.

Lanisen takes several deep breaths and sort of sags with relief. He puts his hands on his knees.

Jana sucks her teeth. “We should get the wolves down here and put the guard near Lampsted and the inn.”

Lanisen straightens. “What can I do, what can I do?”

Jana asks, “Has anyone told the wolves yet?”

Lanisen says, “Pheeobe, I sent Pheeobe.”

Jana asks, “What’s she telling ’em?”

Lanisen says, “I’m not–” He gulps for air. “That, that there’s a dragon, I reckon; I don’t know what–” He twists up his face, distressed. “She ain’t, she ain’t /worried/, she’s too… I don’t know what she told ’em, hopefully there’s somebody with sense there to hear.”

Jana asks, “You know where they are?”

Lanisen pauses. “I never been there, but sort of?”

Jana looks less than encouraged by this.

Lanisen says, “I can, I can find it, I’ll ask birds if I gotta.”

Jana says, “See if you can get them to send some down here. I reckon I’ll try to get a hold of some birds for lookout. Ain’t see any sign of it now.”

Lanisen asks, “What should I tell people?”

Jana asks, “Cursed if I know. Do I look like I know crow about dragons?”

Lanisen presses, “I told that Squirrel to go to the caves; was that all right?”

Jana asks, “I dunno; they blow fire in things. Was it bigger than the cave?”

Lanisen hesitates. “I don’t know, I don’t know, but I think it’s bigger than the opening. It’s, it wouldn’t get in easily, anyway.”

Jana says, “Reckon it ain’t the worst, then.”

Lanisen says, “All right.” He looks down at his hands, still shaking, and draws a deep, steadying breath. “Um. I’ll go to the wolves, and then I’ll go ’round by Knollsted and tell the folks there, and then I’ll go by the Beavers and aim for the watchtower after?”

Jana says, “Yeah. Reckon I’ll be back at the tower by the time you get to it. I’ll get Myrd and Tristran into the tower once the Wolves get here.” She frowns. “Or… somewhere, anyway.””

Lanisen says, “All right; yeah; all right.” He breathes again, and nods, and starts walking, reaching out to grip her shoulder briefly as he passes.

Jana seems a little startled by this gesture, but she doesn’t pull away. When he’s passed, she starts toward the thicket to warn the inhabitants.

Lanisen picks up his pace as he moves and soon is out of sight between the trees.

At the Base of the Watchtower
Lantern Waste

The Northern Wood is a dense and varied woodland. It consists primarily of oak and white pine trees, with a variety of other groves growing here and there. Some of the thicker trunks bear black, ribbed scars from some ancient fire, which might help to explain the large natural clearing that has formed here. The trees thin out to buckthorn and gorse bush about a large tower built of rough-hewn stone. The tower is in good repair, and stretches high enough to clear the tree canopy, presumably affording a good view from all approaches.

Jana kneels at the base of the tower, ineffectively attempting to cheer an inconsolable six-year-old.

Lanisen makes his way along the path, weary and pale. He slows and stops at the sight of Tristran, then takes a deep breath and sets his shoulders before continuing. “Hey, hey,” he says, coming nearer and dropping to a knee to talk to them. “What’s happenin’, what’s goin’ on, huh?”

Jana says, “Please baby? I’ll let you see the whole forest from the top first.”

Tristran shouts, “NO!” and pounds his fists on her thigh and arms.

Lanisen asks, brightening, “Oh, are we goin’ to the top?” He straightens again, ready to go.

Jana says, “You can go with Lanisen if you want, mama will stay right here.”

Tristran kicks her. “NO. I HATE YOU.”

Lanisen looks at Jana when this doesn’t work, making a slight gesture as if to take Tristran’s hand and asking with his eyes.

Jana sucks in a breath through her nose. “Baby. Baby. Tristran. Stop.” She wraps her arms around his. “Tristran. Stop.”

Tristran screams.

Jana looks up at the sky.

Lanisen blows out a breath and rubs his elbow helplessly, then tries again. “Tristran,” he says, crossing around to Tristran’s line of sight. “Tristran, where’s Sir Sprit? Did he go inside already?”

Tristran thrashes and screams.

Jana continues to hold him, though she watches the sky apprehensively. “You just have to let him ride it out.”

Lanisen asks, quieter, “Can I do anything, bring anything?”

Jana says, “Go inside so he don’t got attention.”

Lanisen nods and does so immediately.

Jana makes it inside a quarter of an hour later, Tristran whimpering exhaustedly into her shoulder. “I know, baby, I know.”

Lanisen has gone up to the top to watch the sky, but he comes down when he hears them going inside. He comes down the last few stairs slowly, watching them uncertainly.

Jana walks Tristran around in a few bouncing circles and rubs his back, like a toddler. “It’s a long day, I know.”

Lanisen sits down on the second-lowest step, resting his elbows on his knees, and watches them tiredly.

Jana says, “I bet there’s a good comfy bed for us; we’re gonna walk three more circles, then we’re gonna find one.”

Lanisen gets to his feet at this and silently disappears upstairs to see that one is made.

Jana arrives not too far behind him, Tristran on the ground again, his hand in hers.

Lanisen is punching a pillow into better cushion. He plops it down, glances over his shoulder, and quietly skirts the room to be out of the way.

Jana points to the bed Lanisen has prepared and the one above it. “You choose, pup, the top one or the bottom one.”

Tristran brightens a little and announces with certainty, “Top!”

Jana shakes her head. “Whole sentences, please.”

Tristran looks at her, the calculation between whether or not to be rebellious written on his face, and then says, “I want the top.”

Jana nods, and lifts him halfway up the ladder, standing behind him to help him climb it.

Lanisen makes a little rueful grimace, then descends to the lower level.

Tristran gets a shocked hurt expression and collapses on the bed in tears.

Jana releases a breath. “Use your words, puppy.”

Lanisen pauses halfway down the stairs and looks back, his face at the level of the floor.

Tristran sucks in some shaky breaths and manages, “He said we were… gonna play… Sir Snoot…..”

Lanisen’s eyes go wide and startled and he turns around to come back up.

Tristran sniffs uncertainly.

Jana says, “Half an hour, then it’s time for bed.”

Lanisen says, coming nearer, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I was thinkin’ you were wantin’ to sleep. Here,” he adds, and grabs the fluffed-up pillow from the lower bunk to switch with the pillow from the top. “I plumped it for you.”

Tristran scrunches up his face at him. “That’s not Sir Snoot.”

Lanisen says, “Nooo but I bet it’ll be nicer anyway.” He glances around the tower and clambers up onto the top bunk next over, settling cross-legged at the foot to easily talk with Tristran. “So what’s Sir Snoot been doin’ today?”

Jana sinks down onto the bottom bunk and leans her head against the ladder, closing her eyes. Above her, Tristran demands, “Mama! You have to be Sir Fancy.”

Lanisen offers quickly, glancing down at Jana, “I can be Sir Fancy if you want!”

Tristran looks annoyed with the man’s thick-headedness. “No,” he reminds him. “You’re Sir Snooty.”

Lanisen says brightly, “I can be /both/!”

Tristran sounds eerily like his mother explaining something she thinks is simple to someone she thinks is stupid. “Nooo.”

Lanisen slumps his whole entire self, his face going comically sad. “/Why/, though?”

Jana gets up and climbs the ladder halfway to speak with the child. “How much time until bed time?” she asks.

Tristran says, “Quarter hour.”

Jana says, “Nooo, cause you been arguing since mama said a quarter hour, so now it’s less than a quarter hour.”

Tristran looks teary.

Jana asks, “So you can use the rest of your quarter hour to play, or you can use it to argue. Do you wanna play, or argue?”

Tristran holds out a toy to her. “YOU play Sir Fancy.”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side, glancing at Jana.

Jana takes the knight with a sigh. “Sir Fancy had a long ride fighting talking flying apples, so he and his horse decide to take a nap.” She lays the toy on its side on the rail.

Lanisen says, impressed, “Talking flying apples!”

Tristran says, “Those aren’t real.”

Jana says, “That makes them harder to fight.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll wager.”

Tristran holds up his knight. “Sir Stuck-up only fights real things, that’s why he’s always awake.”

Lanisen asks, “What sorts of things is he fightin’ these days?”

Tristran says, “Ghost.”

Jana says, “…That’s not real.”

Lanisen asks curiously, “How do you fight a ghost? I never done it.”

Tristran says, “Blow on it.”

Lanisen says, “Oh!”

Tristran says, “Sir Stuck-up asked Sir Snoot, but Sir Snoot was too busy giving a Skunk directions to his friends house.”

Lanisen says, “Was it Sir Snoot’s friend or the Skunk’s friend?”

Jana leans her head against the top of the ladder, listening with tired attention.

Tristran says, “The Skunk’s.”

Lanisen says, “Ohh. So then Sir Stuck-up had to fight the ghost all by himself?”

Tristran says, “Yeah, but he has a big gut so it was no problem.”

Jana says, “All right puppy, time for sleeping.”

Lanisen says, “Ohp,” and swings his legs over the side of the bunk and lets himself down.

Jana holds her hands out for the toys. “Give the knights to mama to put them away.”

Tristran does so dutifully, but he says, “You have to sleep with me.”

Lanisen moves toward the stairs, but doesn’t go down just yet.

Jana climbs the rest of the way. “I’ll lie with you until you’re sleeping,” she agrees.

Tristran argues, “/Really/ sleeping.”

Jana says, “Really sleeping.”

Lanisen says, “G’night, Tristran.”

Tristran snuggles up against his mother and says, “Good night.”

Lanisen quietly descends the stairs again.

Jana instructs Lanisen, “You should stay at the watch tower.”

Lanisen hesitates halfway down. “All right.”

Tristran says, “See you in the morning Uncle Lanisen.”

Lanisen’s whole entire face lights up, tired as he is. “See you in the morning,” he answers. “Sleep good.”

Jana smoothes Tristran’s hair. “No more talking, buddy.”

Lanisen goes the rest of the way downstairs to remove the temptation.

Tristran falls asleep almost immediately.

Lanisen settles on the second-to-lowest stair again and curls up there against the wall, hugging his knees.


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