A Wandsman in the Navel of the Moon

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rating: +40+x

by The Fifth Wandsman of Elysium

I beg the reader to forgive me if the stream of my words comes off as unfocused or inelegant, for I feel overwhelmed by emotion as I report the terrible and yet fascinating series of events that took place in the Hot Lands of Mexico. Events that I have not only witnessed but also became involved in, as an unassuming piece in a game of chess that I am just beginning to comprehend. I know that a Wandsman is supposed to remain objective and neutral. Yet a wise man once said: "Neutrality in times of injustice is just siding with the oppressor". I trust the reader to come to their own conclusions about this matter. With this being said, let my story begin.

All of these words are a tribute to Ireta K'éri and a celebration of the bravery and pride of its people. Everything started, as it usually does on Earth, with a war. It was a war that the people of the Hot Lands did not ask for, but came to them nevertheless. The war started as a struggle for control of the drug trade. What was supposed to be a clash between criminal groups soon devolved into a barbaric cavalcade of carnage where no one was safe. Local businesses were extorted until bankruptcy, farmers were driven off their lands and left to starve, women were kidnapped and sold into unspeakable slavery, and children were recruited to toil and die as human shields. The forces of order, supposed to protect the people, at best did nothing and at worst were complicit in their people's agony. The Hot Lands became a mass grave.

Ireta K'éri was just a normal town. When they found themselves besieged by drug gangs and corrupt officers they had no way of resisting. Outgunned and outmatched they would have soon become another ghost town. One among many. But the memory of the Hot Lands goes back a long time. The people of Ireta K'éri decided it was time for remembrance. The Church had forbidden them to commune again with Los Dioses Viejos1, but why should they listen to a Church that would not move a finger to protect them? So they dug the old statues and rebuilt the ancient temples. They offered maize, cacao, and even their own blood to the forgotten altars. And soon the magic of the Old Ways was alive in the Hot Lands again. The primordial fire of Curicaueri gave the people of Ireta K'éri the power to fight back. And for a time, their land was free.

Ireta K'éri became a symbol of hope and resistance against violence and oppression. Many towns around the Hot Lands began following their example, rising against drug lords and corrupt authorities alike. For the first time in a long time, the children could play safely in the streets again. Ireta K'éri kept growing strong and even the Mexican Government and the Foundation had to reluctantly accept their autonomy. They were thriving and on their way to becoming a prosperous enclave that in time could rival even the splendor of Three Portlands.

All of this came to a tragic end on a fateful night when the people of Ireta K'éri woke up to a treacherous attack. No one was spared. Local authorities gathered the shredded remains of the brave people of Ireta K'éri and buried them in mass graves. The Foundation conducted an investigation and declared the incident "an attack by nahual therianthropes working for the cartels". Three hundred people were just gone in one night, ripped apart by feral demons. The ruins of the once-thriving town still stand as a monument to all hopes and dreams gone, all the ancient knowledge lost forever, and all the laughter of the children that will never be heard again.

I am nothing but a chronicler. My place is to record history, not to bring justice. And yet, I felt exceptionally strongly that Ireta K'éri should not be forgotten. I became determined to find the truth and bring it to the world. So I began my quest in one of my least favorite places on this planet: a Foundation Site.

"It is always a pleasure to receive a member of the Order", said the man in the lab coat, "I have been given clearance to answer all your questions regarding the unfortunate events at Ireta K'éri."

"The Foundation's generosity is always appreciated by my kind", I replied somewhat dryly. The ambiance felt sterile. Through years of experience, the Foundation had perfected the art of sanitization to an uncomfortable degree, "I would be interested in knowing more about the motives and nature of the attack."

"This was nothing but the logical consequence of the escalation of violence towards the anomalous," he replied in a voice as sanitized as the air in the room. His tone was dry and emotionless, matter-of-factly talking about the death of hundreds of people: "The people of Ireta K'éri tapped into dangerous thaumaturgy to fight the cartels and — while that worked for a time, it was only natural that the cartels would respond with even more powerful thaumaturgy. In the end, their own magic was their downfall."

"Some may say that if they hadn't turned to the Old Ways they would have been dead sooner." I retorted while taking notes, "I can see that the Foundation was not an admirer of Ireta K'éri."

"It is easy to get caught in a romantic vision, especially from an outsider's perspective. The truth is that kind of power in the hands of civilians rarely ends well. They should have put their trust in the institutions. That is always the safest route."

"So do you believe the Foundation is doing a good job protecting the people in the Hot Lands?"

"We maintain very close cooperation with Mexican authorities in matters of security. As you may have been informed, drug violence is on the rise and the cartels had turned to anomalous methods. Tragically, the Hot Lands are a strategic point in the smuggling of Arcángel."

Arcángel. Such a beautiful name for such a foul thing. An anomalous psychoactive substance synthesized from the bodily secretions of an angel after being subjected to horrendous cannibalistic torture. It is in high demand by the likes of the Hunter's Black Lodge and the Nalkan cults and — if the rumors are correct; even the Allagaddans are not immune to its rush. However, it is believed among scholars of the anomalous drug trade that the greatest demand comes from no other place than Three Portlands itself.

"We have been working hard to contain them, but as long as the demand for Arcángel remains high, we will keep seeing anomalous cartel violence. However, people should refrain from tapping into the anomalous themselves. The risks outweigh any benefits and it only contributes to the ongoing escalation of violence. Currently, we are working alongside the Horizon Initiative to discourage any use of pre-Christian thaumaturgy in the region."

"Could you elaborate on that collaboration?"

"The idea is to restore faith and trust in the Catholic Church. We have seen a rise in cults tapping into the Old Ways, such as the devotion to the Pale Lady. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a surge of fatal anomalous incidents. We are confident that renewing the Catholic values of the population could discourage these practices. The Horizon Initiative constitutes an invaluable partner in this endeavor."

"I see." I did not want to get sidetracked too much, so I decided to brush aside my questions about the implications of this (un?)holy alliance, "What can you tell me about the specifics of the attack?"

"As you may be aware, we suspect that nahual theriantropy was employed. Everything points to the Sin Nombre organization. They are the biggest producers and smugglers of Arcángel. Most of the other cartels fear them for their mastery of anomalous warfare. Ireta K'éri was disrupting their smuggling routes, so they had the motives and the means."

Sin Nombre. Those with no name. Not even the most powerful cartels would dare to go against them. Even if only half of what I've heard about their brutality was true, that would put them on the level of the most deranged followers of the King in Red. And yet Ireta K'éri stood against them. An act of bravery… or an act of foolishness? Anyways, the sterile ambiance of the Foundation Site was getting on my nerves, so it was time for a field trip.

"I'm really thankful for the Foundation's cooperation." I put on my best diplomatic smile, "If you don't mind, I would appreciate seeing the ruins of Ireta K'éri."

Truth be told, the place reeked of magic. The fire magic of Curicaueri lingered melancholically in the air as if it was lamenting the lives it failed to protect. And there was the unmistakable scent of theriantropy. Some say that we the Wandsmen take avian forms in order to leave behind our former selves in the service of knowledge. Nahuales do something similar but lose themselves to their primal urges instead. They become feral and blood-lusted, making them the perfect natural-born killers. However, something was off. The nahual thaumaturgy can be brutal, but it is also a primordial force of nature. It means death but also life. And yet this magic felt infertile, unbalanced. This was not the ancestral magic I had expected.

I stood among the ruins of Ireta K'éri. For some the adobe2 constructions could be interpreted as a lack of resources, however, the technique of the mud-brick was as ancestral as the Old Ways. The adobe walls keep the heat inside in winter and outside in summer. I took a look at the ruined houses of the once-proud town. The walls were still tainted with blood and ashes. I noticed a ragdoll among some debris.

"How many children lived here?" I asked.

"Around 15 or 20", answered the captain, "We could not find their remains. Guess they were eaten completely. I've heard the nahuales like child meat. They say it's sweeter."

My escort consisted of several members of the Mexican National Guard, as well as some MTF operatives from the Foundation. They were very polite for the most part. The national guards seemed amused by the task of escorting a talking bird, while the MTFs were probably thankful for a mission that did not involve getting dismembered by an eldritch abomination.

I decided to take a closer look at the ragdoll in the debris. There was something shiny behind it. I dug it up. It was the point of a spear. High carbon stainless steel. The design looked primitive but the craft certainly wasn't ancient. And the engravings on it were particular, they looked almost — Runic. I checked the soldiers weren't looking and put it in my purse.

Something amiss was happening here and neither the Foundation nor the government seemed to really care. They wouldn't let me linger in the ruins for too long and there were no other obvious leads to follow. They say a crime without a witness is a perfect crime. But were there really no witnesses? Perhaps for those confined to the living world. But a Wandsman suffers from no such restrictions.

The people of Ireta K'éri were followers of the Old Ways, so their souls should be on Mictlán. If only I could reach them I could bring their voices back to the world. To give them, if not justice, at least some sort of closure, then I would feel the story was complete. But entering Mictlán as a living being is not straightforward. To enter the Underworld, you usually need two things: an invitation and a psychopomp. Fortunately, I knew how to get invited.

Walking along the Pátzcuaro Lake shoreline at night is usually not a good idea. While the reflection of the statue of the Janitzio island in its water is stunning, especially under the moonlight, the lake is home to the Miringuas. Miringuas are water spirits with a fondness for drowning people and feasting on their souls, then sending the leftovers as a tribute to the Lords of Mictlán. Though they were mere vassals of the Lords of Death, they also had the authority to issue an invitation. There was my opportunity. I just needed to avoid being drowned and convince them to cooperate. Easier said than done.

I wandered the shoreline for half an hour without trouble. I was starting to fear that the Miringuas would not be hunting that night. Fortunately (or unfortunately), my fear was mistaken. I felt the embrace of a cold claw pulling me from my legs into the depths. I'm not an aquatic bird, so I found myself at a disadvantage. I needed to play my cards quickly and show some of those famous Wandsmen diplomacy skills.

"Miringua!", I shouted through a telepathic spell, "I hope you can forgive me, but I would not be a good nourishment for you."

The Miringua was unimpressed, "And why would that be, pajarito3?"

"The soul of a Wandsman has been tainted by so many incantations that it has lost any natural flavor."

"Flavor is not the only thing that matters in a meal."

"Are the Miringuas so hungry as to settle for a tasteless dish?"

"No we are not, but we also don't like our prey getting away and telling everyone we are bad hunters."

"Oh but I'm not getting away, my life is yours and only yours mighty Miringua. But you should not settle for my tasteless meat. You should find a better use for me."

"And what would that be?"

I had to be precise here, "I would surely make an excellent tribute to the Death Lords, to whom you must pay your due in order to hunt in this lake."

"So we kill you and send you there."

"Everyone can send a soul after killing it. But only the mightiest warriors dare to bring a living tribute. Your masters certainly would be impressed by such achievement."

"Fine pajarito, the Miringuas shall be known as the mightiest of warriors." The ghoul-like spirit spat on its claw and drew a cross on my forehead. "Go to the surface the Xolotl shall find you, for you are marked by us. Present yourself as a tribute from the Miringuas, and it will guide you to the Death Lords of Mictlán."

"So Miringuas are not very intelligent," said the Xolotl dog as I followed him through the streets of Pátzcuaro, "but to be fair, neither are you."

"They are also quite disgusting," I replied while cleaning the gross symbol off my forehead.

The Xolotl was an entirely hairless dog. It had black skin and golden eyes that penetrated the deepest confines of your soul. Eyes that now were looking at me condescendingly. I felt overwhelmed by the bearing of its sight as if my darkest secrets and mistakes were being revealed and judged. Which I suppose is just appropriate coming from a psychopomp.

"I know almost getting myself eaten wasn't the brightest move, but I did not have a lot of options," I said as if confessing a sin, "by the way, what can I do to convince you to not hand me to the Death Lords?"

As we descended into the undercity, the twist and turns started to get less and less euclidean. I could feel how reality unfolded unto itself. It always takes a while to accustom oneself to the rules of an Underworld.

"The Death Lords have been gone for a long time. Now La Catrina, the Pale Lady calls the shots here. But don't panic, she has no use for a soul of your ilk."

We turned left in an alley and suddenly my canine guide stopped "Here we are, pajarito."

In front of my eyes extended the majesty of the Mesoamerican Underworld. An endless toroidal necropolis of colorful tombs that blended the better aspects of life and death. The tomb city folded into itself, creating a kaleidoscopic spectacle where directions and orientations stopped mattering. Architectures from different time periods coexisted in a fascinating mix: from ancient stone pyramids to baroque churches, from art-nouveau palaces to humble colonial parishes, from brutalist concrete monuments to neon-adorned kitsch extravaganzas. Here the dead could live unbothered till the end of times.

"Do you think the Pale Lady would honor me with an audience?"

"Probably, she's always looking for things to amuse her," answered the dog snarkily, "she also has a fondness for suicidal idiots."

"I'm really happy to see you here, pajarito", the Pale Lady smiled with an almost child-like wonder, "it is so rare that I have a visitor so full of life."

She sat behind an old wooden desk. Her office felt warm and cozy, it was truly a beautiful expression of the art-deco style, perfected by the dead artisans in a way that the living never could. Behind her, there was an enormous window with a beautiful view of the undercity. The Lady was wearing an elegant dress with a wide hat decorated with cempasúchil flowers. Her pale and soft skin contrasted with her dark eye shadow makeup that made her look like a calavera. Or was she an actual skeleton? It was hard to tell for some reason.

"My lady, I'm so glad that you find my presence charming. But I´m afraid I'm here for a grim matter. I intend to report the truth about the massacre of Ireta K'éri. I found no answer in the land of the living, so I came here in search of their lost souls, intending to hear their story from their own voices."

"If that is the case, I am afraid to tell you that those souls are indeed lost. They are so lost that my Xolotls could not find them and bring them to Mictlán."

"But how could that be? How could their souls just vanish like that?"

"The living like to think that after death there are no more problems or dangers. The truth is that the soul is just as vulnerable as the living body. A lot of bad things can happen that prevent a soul from reaching the afterlife."

I felt so disheartened. Not only had Ireta K'éri been viciously destroyed, but also their souls were gone? What kind of evil was behind this? And for what end?

"There's another thing I want to ask," I showed her the spearhead I found in the ruins. "Have you ever seen something like this before?"

She took the spearhead and placed it under a lamp. She examined it for a few minutes before saying: "It looks like a tooth."

"A tooth? What type of tooth?" I asked confused.

"I don't know. It just looks like one." She smiled as she handed me the spearhead.

I sighed. "Please, Santa Muerte, is there a way you could help me to find out what's happening?"

"Don't worry about that pajarito. Things are already in motion and soon you will find your truth, whether you like it or not. Can I ask you a question, little bird?"

"Of course, my lady."

"Why is the truth so important to you?"

"Because I think the truth will lead to justice… Eventually."

"Is that why you became a Wandsmen?"

"I think so."

"Godspeed, pajarito. You are on your way to a meeting with your destiny. I can bless you with two pieces of advice: tell the men without a name that the Pale Lady won't take kindly to a broken promise and ask R if the nightmares have gotten quieter. Now go pajarito, there is no time to lose."

As she finished saying these last words I found myself dragged away from the land of the dead. I'm used to teleportation, but this was more as if space-time itself swallowed me and then barfed me into the living world. I found myself again in the streets of Pátzcuaro. I was still recovering and assimilating what had just happened when a black van parked in front of me. Three masked men descended from it and unceremoniously dragged me into the car.

"We don´t like snitching birds", said the man in the jaguar mask. My other two kidnappers wore a coyote and a snake mask, respectively. They took turns beating the shit out of me. They burned me with cigarettes and tore out my feathers, among other horrible things the knowledge of which I will spare the reader. The fury and cruelty of a nahual are terrific even in human form. To this day, I'm glad I never had to face a fully transformed one.

"We will fucking eat you, cabrón. But first we will make you regret the day you were born and the day you became this fucking bird, rata alada. This will teach to not fuck with Sin Nombre."

Sin Nombre. The men with no name. That was it! I mustered all my waning strength and said:

"The Pale Lady won't take kindly to a broken promise."

The jaguar-masked sicario4 suddenly stopped. I could not see his face, but I could swear I felt his smile vanishing.

"¿Qué chingados dijiste?5"

"What you heard," I replied with an uncharacteristic bravado both to my usual disposition and my current situation, "I said if you ever make a promise to the motherfucking Santa Muerte you better not break it."

The three men stood in silence. At least the torture had stopped. They muttered something to the driver. The van stopped and I was thrown into a ditch. I was beaten, broken, and in the middle of nowhere but alive at last. Whatever deal those monsters had with the Lady had saved my life.

I would be lying if I told you that I did not think about running away. I was no longer just an observer and my life was on the line. I was no Raptor and even they could not help me for their activities were forbidden on Earth. And yet I felt a strange determination. I owed the truth to myself and to Ireta K'éri.

I was limping my way back to civilization when I heard a car stopping next to me. For a moment I feared the Sin Nombre goons had decided to break their promise and finish the job. But instead of the black van, it was a blue VW Beetle. A person got out and carried me into the vehicle. That was the last thing I remember before blacking out.

I woke up in a small hotel room. A dim light from an old lamp revealed a place that had not been renewed in a long time. It reminded me of the anachronistic architecture of the Underworld and for a moment I feared the worse. However, I noticed my wounds have been treated. I tried standing up but a sharp pain prevented me.

"You still need some more rest." The person from the VW was standing in a corner. They wore tarnished jeans and a leather jacket over a white shirt. What caught my attention was their eyes, they looked friendly yet they betrayed an immense sadness, "It should not take too long, you Wandsmen heal quickly".

"I'm most thankful for your help. May I know the name of my benefactor?"

"You can call me R."

I remembered more quickly this time, "The Pale Lady wishes to know if your nightmares have gotten quieter."

"They have, thanks," replied R with a somewhat sad smile. "Well, I guess this confirms you are indeed the Wandsman I was looking for."

"To my knowledge, I'm the only Wandsman in the country, but I suppose one is never too sure."

"I know you are searching for the truth about Ireta K'éri."

"What do you know about that?" My heart raced at the prospect of finally shedding light on this matter.

"I can tell you that the Foundation has lied to you."

"Go on."

"You'll see, Ireta K'éri was not only a trouble for the cartels. They were defying the government's authority and even the Foundation was afraid they could not contain them if they were allowed to get stronger. An anomalous uprising against the government would mean very bad news for the Veil. Also, they were not only blocking the drug trade but the mining operations as well. The zone is full of lithium. Everybody needs lithium these days, especially the Foundation."

"So everybody had something to win with Ireta K'éri gone. Sin Nombre, the government, the Foundation. Are you telling me they were behind this?"

"Partially, but there is still a piece missing in the puzzle."

Then I remember the spearhead. I searched for my purse but could not find it. I must have lost it when the Sin Nombre goons kidnapped me. And the spearhead was gone with it. The missing piece.

"There was a tooth… a spearhead. I lost it but I think is related."

"And you are correct. What if I told you there is a place where you can find the missing piece?"

"And what kind of place would that be?" I inquired.

"The Mexican Intelligence keeps their confidential records in the C46 security complex. It is very well protected against human threats and most magic."

"I think here the keyword is 'most'."

R smiled confidently. "They are probably not expecting a Wandsman to teleport there."

"And what would a Wandsman be looking there for?"

"A dossier by the name Operación Trueno."

Breaking into the C4 and retrieving the Operación Trueno dossier was relatively anticlimactic. Architecturally, it looked like your standard evil brutalist dystopian compound. It truly was a fortress, both physically and magically. For a government ruling over such impoverished people, they had certainly spared no expense in making their complex unbreakable. Well, almost unbreakable. Their walls were reinforced to withstand both rocket launchers and pyromancy. It certainly had pretty good defenses against most conventional magic, preventing the entrance of unwanted guests. Fortunately, Wandsmen teleportation works on a different channel than conventional human magic. Once I had the dossier in my talon, I returned to the hotel room. R was already gone. I sat on the bed and proceeded to read the dossier. The answers I was looking for would finally be revealed.

But of course, things are never so uncomplicated. There was a last security measure in the dossier. As I opened it, I also opened a pocket dimension contained within it. And with horror, I saw a bear-shaped ironclad monstrosity materializing in front of me. Before I could run or cast anything, the biomechanical horror leaped on me. There were at least five hundred kilograms of flesh and metal crushing my bones. As the bear opened its mouth to devour my head, I could see that its teeth were in fact spearheads. High carbon stainless steel spearheads.

"Hey chingadera, you better leave that pajarito alone." A push of energy sent the bear-thing flying away from me. I turned my head to look at my would-be savior: a young woman in camo pants and a sleeveless shirt. She had long black hair and wore a lot of bracelets, necklaces, and amulets which I believe were more of a thaumaturgic necessity than a fashion statement.

But the battle was not over and the roar of the cyborg bear shredded my ears as it charged against her. For a moment it seemed as if the creature was going to rip her head with its claws, but just as it was about to reach her, the bear vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. She exhaled a sigh of relief and fell to her knees, breathing heavily.

"That was a close one," She said.

"That was no nahual." That was the only coherent thought I could articulate.

"No shit, Belascoarán.7"

"What happened to it?"

"I sent it back to where it came from. It was quicker than trying to destroy it and we were in a hurry."

"I must thank you for saving me."

"No problem. R told me to keep an eye on you in case something went wrong. Generally, I'm not a big fan of your kind. I find you, gossip birds, kind of annoying and unhelpful. All that power and you only think about writing in your journals instead of actually doing something useful. But you are different, you were not afraid of putting your life on the line."

"The search for truth is also a search for justice. Maybe you have judged us Wandsmen wrong."

"Perhaps I did. Now you have the dossier, all the evidence is there. You have the truth, now go find your justice."

"I guess it's over now." I sighed.

"If only, the war is never over. One last thing, this will make more sense once you read the dossier. However, when you write the story I want you to include this part: tell those nordic bastards that La Comandanta is back and ready to kick their corvid asses back to Hel."

Some well-informed reader may have already assembled the puzzle. For those still in the shadows, I have added the Operación Trueno dossier as an appendix to this article. Everything will be clear after reading it. On my part, I can only hope that my search for truth has done justice to the heroic town of Ireta K'éri. I hope their lost souls find the peace they deserve. May truth and justice always find a way to the surface, no matter who wants them to remain hidden.

The suited man finished reading the newspaper draft and left it on his desk. He sat on his office chair under dim light, looking like a crow on its nest. He directed an inquisitive look to the Wandsman.

"I assume that you did not bring this to us because you wanted editorial input."

"That would be correct," replied the Wandsman.

"And since you have not published it yet, it is safe to assume you are here to negotiate."

"Also a correct assumption."

"In that case, you should know that I have the authorization to negotiate on behalf of the High Table as long as I defend the interests of the Valravn Corporation." He obviously took great pride in his position within the company. "So tell me, Wandsman, what are you bringing to the table?"

"I know the Mexican government hired Valravn to destroy Ireta K'éri and blame it on the cartels. I also know that the Foundation was complicit and agreed to fake an investigation to cover up your involvement. It was crucial to not leave any witnesses, whether dead or alive. So you sent Berserkers to mimic a Nahual attack. In addition, your Berserker's teeth and claws are consecrated replicas of Gungnir, Odin's spear. Anyone killed by them would have their soul automatically tributed to Odin. That's why the souls of Ireta K'éri never reached Mictlán. You were harvesting them for your god. That would also prevent anyone from contacting those souls and finding the truth. However, your involvement was recorded by Mexican intelligence in the Operación Trueno dossier, which I happen to possess and intend to publish alongside my article."

"It seems that denial at this point would be futile… Am I correct to assume you are offering your silence?"

"As a Wandsman, I can offer to delay the publication for three hundred years."

"And what would be your price?"

"I want you to release the souls of Ireta K'éri. They will remain in Mictlán and they will not speak of what happened for three hundred years as a promise to the Pale Lady."

"You seem to be overconfident in your position to come here and make demands. You are correct we would prefer this matter to not go public, but the release of this information would be, at worst, just an inconvenience to us."

"I'm aware of that. However, I know you are maximizers of Profit. Tell me, raven, do you think the Foundation would risk Three Portlands finding out they are willing to let mercenaries neutralize enclaves? They would disavow you before that could happen. Without their blessing, your business becomes much more difficult and your profit goes down. Would the High Table be pleased to know you had the chance to prevent this and chose to do nothing instead?"

"I have to admit you are quite a negotiator…" The suit took a brief pause before adding: "Maybe we could reach an agreement after all."

"There's something else. I know you did not kill all of Ireta K'éri. The children, you took them instead. I would like to say that I didn't expect Valravn to be so low as to employ child soldiers, but truth be told I'm hardly surprised."

"As part of our social responsibility, we have a program to ensure war orphans are given a second chance in life."

"I want you to release them."

"Impossible, one thing is releasing the souls, but we cannot permit to have living witnesses. Not even with amnestic treatment."

"They won't be on Earth, I will take them with me to the Wandsmen."

"And I thought the Wandsmen were above employing child soldiers."

"Don't project your sins on me, valravn. They will be given a chance to choose their destiny."

"That's where you are mistaken. Nobody chooses their destiny. It has already been woven by the Norns. And in the end, Odin owns us all." The raven-like representative of the mercenary corporation took a deep breath and sighed: "Yet you have played your cards well, Wandsman. On behalf of the High Table and the Valravn Corporation, I find your terms… acceptable."

"If that is the case, that would be all on my part."

"I suppose you're feeling quite proud of yourself right now. Enjoy it while it lasts. It never lasts long. However, there is something I have to ask you to do to cement this deal. You know there are worse things than us in the wide, dangerous multiverse. Tell your Editor-In-Chief that we, the Valravn Corporation, gladly put our services at their disposal… for the right price of course."

The man in the suit leaned forward with a condescending smirk on his lips, “You know as well as I do that when the chips are down, hiring us is by far the lesser of two evils."

The black-feathered, corvid Wandsman sighed, "I really hate ravens."

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