Book 2- Chapter 13- Idleness
“Is everyone alright?”
Standing at the outskirts of the forest, I peered down upon the ruined until I came across the rendezvous carriage that would take us home.
“You could help you know.” Hearing Shae’s complaint, I turned my attention back to the forest. From the shadows the others appeared. Rushing towards her, I lent my shoulder to help Requa while Shae helped Haus and Kugei. The rest lagged behind us.
“Man that was a tough battle. Too bad, I was a meat shield.”
“Now, now don’t be too hard on yourself Requa. If it weren’t for you, then Traus would have been seriously injured.”
“What done is done…”
“We all did our best and we are victorious.”
They were reminiscing the battle that I fabricated,
As the sword heirs chatted with one another, I kept a watchful eye over them. Listening in for any possible inconsistency. Even now, it baffles me that my idea of altering their memories worked out. Part of me worried that they would be brain dead from my tinkering.
The memories that I fabricated took place just after all of them were put out of commission. If I were to recreate memories before it, it would lead to inconsistency on how we defeated the Wumba. Of course coming with the memory and making it believable was a challenge in its own right.
I decided a simplistic outline for how the event unfolded. Using the time where they were knocked out. I used it to my advantage to have the memory express Shae and mine endeavor to move them to safety. The possibility of them questioning the feat was plausible but it was a gamble that I was willing to take.
After moving them to safety, I came up with a strategy to defeat the Wumba. The rest was simple padding in order to make the memories believable and coherent. Killing the monster, I had it where they collapse from exhaustion. Which will coincide with them being actually unconscious from the first encounter of the massive Wumba.
It was an odd feeling swimming inside their heads. Their unconscious and consciousness wavering. The memories were like a picture puzzle. Fabricating the memories was no different than creating a puzzle piece and placing where I wanted it to. It was almost if I was playing God.
As I finished my thought, I quickly shook it away. Returning back to reality we arrived at the ruined town. There, a carriage with several knights waited for us. From there, they took over and we slowly boarded the carriage.
“Wait…” As the last of us boarded the carriage, Rumo’s voice called out. “There is something I would like to discuss with you. Nu-Ru.” Calling me out directly I froze. “Follow me…”
Not waiting on me, Rumo walked away and I followed. Traversing the desolate town, we stopped a fair distance away from the carriage. Turning to face me, neither one of us spoke. The silent stare off was met with a palpable silence. Inwardly, I couldn’t help but fear for the worse.
‘Did I miss something? Did the false memory fail somehow?’ Tension only grew as he simply stared at me.
“I-I…sorry.” Uttering those words, I stood in confusion.
“Wait!…Sorry for what?”
“For What I said back then. You…you were right. If it weren’t for you, then that massive monster could have killed us all. Haus, Requa, Traus, and the others. If it weren’t for your leadership, we might not be here.”
It took me a moment to realize what he was referring to. The memory I implanted within his and the others mind was of how I formulated a plan to defeat the massive Wumba. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his fist clench and trembling.
I quickly caught on. He was telling me that he was wrong. My scolding before made him realize his mistake. All it took was for him to see it coming to realize the error of his judgement. In a way, he was apologizing to me.
For a man as prideful as Rumo, to admit that he was wrong was a massive blow. Even as he apologize, it sounded force. Although he was true in some regards, I couple completely blame him.
“I did what I did to protect us and besides, you couldn’t have known. Don’t be too hard on yourself and try to be more open minded.” Patting him on his shoulder, the intensity of his previous gaze mellowed. Resigning, the two of us finally headed back.
Hopping into our respective carriages, we were finally under way. Fatigue had finally crept up onto them and they all fell asleep. All but me. We left as the sun was setting and returned back to the Capital as the pale crescent moon stood above the land.
Reaching our designation, all nine of us meet for one last meeting. “Thank you for your help. I’ll inform prince Alphonso about the success of the mission. I’ll also inform the faculty that we won’t be attending the Academy for a couple of days. So everyone get their rest.
No one argued with Rumo and happily accepted. The other sword heirs decided to follow Rumo and went their separate ways. Als on the other hand simply walked away without uttering a single word. All that was left for Shae and myself was to go back to the dorm.
Bamen and Bamun awaited our arrival and welcome us with dinner. I off course decided to skip dinner and headed straight to bed. I hadn’t bother change clothed and simply jumped onto the bed. Lying of the comfy bed, my unease melted away.
As my body succumb to the fatigue, my conscious was slipping into sleep.
“Master. I’ve news to report?” My eyes were shut but I could make out Sirva’s voice.
“Wait until tomorrow. I’m tired right now.” I weakly muttered.
“As you command.” With a small ‘whoosh’ she was gone from the room. Without any more distraction I finally drifted off into sleep.
Last night I hurried off to bed. So quickly that I did not check to see if the window and blinders were open or not. As a result, sunlight filled the room at the break of dawn. I roused from my sleep, rubbing the sleepiness from my eyes.
“Good morning Master.” Upon waking up, a voice greeted me. Standing at attention next to my bed was Sirva.
“My report master. You wished to be undistributed yesterday. Do you wish to hear it now?” Reminding me of her duty, I lazily nodded my head. My drowsiness persisted so most of the information flew over my head. Information that I reminded myself to ask for further detail when I fully awake.
“Lastly I cannot find the king.” As the last piece of information came forward. A whole second pass before my mind finally registered the severity of her news. Instantly my opened and I was fully awake.
The king is gone.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I have scoured the entire castle and the surrounding building but I have yet to find him. I have even spied on numerous maids in hopes of one of them tending to the king. But the results have been the same.”
‘How can the king be gone? He’s the fricking king!’ Trying to calm myself, I pondered several possible scenario of why the Empire’s king might be missing. Of course all of it meant nothing in the grand scheme of things if we don’t separate the facts from speculations.
“What are your orders master?”
“…For now, focus your effort on finding the king. Gather as much intelligence as you can on the whereabouts of the King.”
“Understood.” Giving her orders, Sirva’s body enveloped in smoke and dissipated. With Sirva gone, I got ready for the day. Sitting around and moping would get nowhere.
Heading down stair, fragrance aroma was in the air. A sweet smell that reminded me of cinnamon. Strolling to the kitchen, I found food sprawled across the kitchen table.
“Morning.” Shae was already seated, a platter of food nearly finished.
“Good morning.” I replied with mild enthusiasm.
“What’s wrong?” Shae asked, taking a bite of her food. “You looked like you slept on the wrong side of the bed. Still tired?”
“It isn’t sleep that is troubling me. It’s something else.” Addressing her concern, Shae caught on.
“I see…well you can explain ‘after’ you finish eating. Can’t start the day with an empty stomach.” Happily agreeing with her, I helped myself. The truth was that I was starving since yesterday. The smell alone was enough to make my mouth salivate.
Pardoning myself, I enjoyed breakfast. By the end, I ate roughly twice as much as Shae. “You must have been really hungry. So then, what is it that you want to talk to me about?”
Satiating my appetite, with a clear head I filled Shae in on the information given by Sirva. “The King is nowhere to be seen…you don’t think he’s dead do you?” Presenting an alternative, the thought wasn’t impossible but highly improbable.
“I doubt it. We are talking about the King here. The highest authority of an entire nation. Should the King be actually dead, there should be an uproar with the higher echelons of the Empire.”
“Well…when you put it like that.” Despite dispelling Shae’s worry, there was still a small chance that the King was indeed dead. If so, our task just got a bit more complicated. If and when we find evidence that links the Empire to the Black Order. It will cause civil unrest.
Our duty is to find evidence linking them. Jury and prosecution is left to the Regios Kingdom. If the king is truly dead and those at the top are found guilty. With no true authority leading the Empire after those that are guilty are punished. Thousands, if not millions of life will be ruined.
The thought alone was enough to cause my hand to tremble. The two of us alone wield enough power to bring the Empire to its knees. Be it literally or metaphorically. “No…Now isn’t the time. Focus…” Muttering to myself, now isn’t the time to get sidetracked.
Originally we came to the Empire to look for clues. The plan was simple. We would work our way up, all the while gathering as much intelligence as we can. Now, there’s a change in the plans. “Seems that we need to make an addendum to the plans. From now on, we’ll also for clues on the King.”
“Huh? Why? Sirva is taking care of that. We can just leave it to her and focus on our own business.” Hearing Shae’s lazy remarks, I resisted the urge to sigh in disappointment. It is rather careless to dump all the work load onto someone else.
“That may be true, but we should still pitch in. Sirva is scouring the Royal castle for any evidence of the King. If the maids and workers don’t have a clue, then perhaps some of the personnel such as ministers know where he is. The question that remains is tracking down those involve and then…”
“Nu…I know that you want to catch those responsible, but don’t you think you should take a small break.” As I continued, I rambled on, losing myself in my own thoughts. It was Shae that snapped me out of it. “We just got back from the mission just yesterday. Take it easy.”
“But…” Before I could argue with her, Shae firmly raised her hand to stop me. “I understand your concern, and worry. However, if you keep on stressing yourself out by overthinking everything. You’ll eventually crash and burn.” Hearing her concern, some truth can be found in them. I’ve always had a habit of overworking myself to the point of exhaustion.
“…I guess you have a point there. I suppose take a day to relax wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Conceding to her demands, Shae’s head perked up.
“Yes! Thanks, you won’t regret it. I have the perfect for the two of us to unwind and relax.”
“Oh?” Hearing Shae’s gleeful response, I was surprised that Shae had something plan. Then again, she might have anticipated my answer all along. “Alright. What do you have in mind?” I asked with gleaming curiosity.
“We’re going on a date.”
“Hurry up!” Amidst the crowd of people, Shae’s booming voice could be heard from several meters away. The sound drew all manner of curious glances, all pointed towards me and Shae. After recovering from my initial shock back at the dorm. I almost immediately rejected the idea. Yet, one way or another, Shae convinced me to join her.
Shae even went so far as to change up her wardrobe for our outing. She sported a silver one piece dress with frills along the edges. The dress was rather plain yet beautiful in its simplistic design. I’ve always pictured Shae with heavy, and rough attire and armor. Seeing her with a completely new appearance was rather off putting but at the same time refreshing.
I on the other hand sported a simple tunic vest with some comfortable pants. Little thought was place in choosing my attire. I simply choice an attire that felt clean and nature to wear.
Within the central ring of the Capital, we decided to have our ‘date’ in one of the many business districts we have yet to explore. Rows and rows of stores lined side by side, selling all forms of merchandise. Many ranged from celling fresh produce to different forms of exotics goods.
As I watched her twirling within the streets, I indulged in my own thoughts. Namely, why Shae asked for a ‘date.’ ‘I wonder why she wanted to go on a date so much…maybe she secretly likes me….That would be way too cliché. The Shae I know would have suggested something like a sparring match or a competition…Ahhhh!’
Screaming in my head, I scratched my scalp in frustration. The whole situation drove me mad. Perhaps I was just embarrassed and was trying to rationalize the whole situation. “Quit your daydreaming, come on!”
Appearing next to me, Shae grabbed me arm and locked arms with me. “We are on a ‘date’ remember? That means, no thinking and just enjoy yourself.” Tightening her grip, the two of us wandered aimlessly amidst the crowd.
“I never pegged you for the type that enjoy these kinds of things.”
“Oh? What’s that supposed to mean?” Hearing remark, Shae leaned her head against my chest. “I may be a tomboy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy these type of things from time to time.”
“Really? Considering your actions in the past and now, I’ve always treated you as boy. I never you actually can be girly. You learn something new everything.” Cracking a joke, her grip tightened. Clearly, she was not amused by my comment.
“That’s rude you know. Take that back.”
“You are right, I’m sorry…You act more like a gorilla than you do a guy.” Apologizing and then committing an even larger insult. Shae’s grip tightened even further, crushing my arm. ‘Owowowow…I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
Immediately apologizing, I rapidly patted her arm in order to make her stop. Luckily I stopped her before she breaks my arm. “Hmph.” Shae pouted, unamused by my actions. “Is that how you treat a girl to a date? Just for that, you’re paying for everything.”
Turning her head away, her actions cause me to laugh. ‘It’s not like that matters, seeing as I can create a near infinite supply of gold.’ Her choice of punishment seemed rather generic and overall pointless. Despite that I smiled for the entire trip with Shae alongside me.
For most of the day, from the afternoon to early evening we spent the time just having fun. We primarily wandered the entire area, taking in the new sites and stores. Most sold miscellaneous items but we still dropped by to look at them nonetheless. From jewelry and decorations to rather bizarre knickknacks such as odd looking ornaments and strange make shifted items.
We hardly bought anything from these vendors, yet we spent a ton of times simply going over the items. Either laughing at the oddity of it all or simply pondering what exactly the object represent. The two of us spent hours going from vendor to vendor, feeding our curiosity.
Before long, we stopped by a vendor that should a vast variety of different article of clothing. Shae had a field day scouring the wide variety of cloths presented. As I watched from afar, I felt happy that she was enjoying herself.
It was an enjoyable experience, watching her enjoy herself. While learning something new about her. Shae spent a significant time amount of time simply picking out cloths. By the end of it, nearly two hours have passed and we were moving forward with tons of bags filled with clothes. To be more precise, I was carrying all the bags as we traveled.
The sun was slowly beginning its descent, a warm orange glow shined across the horizon. AS the day grew darker and darker, the crystal lamplights illuminated the early dusk atmosphere. Combining the radiant colors of the lamps with the natural sunset created a warm and peaceful atmosphere.
The two of us quickly found ourselves at an open tavern to rest for a bit. “So, how did you enjoy our ‘date?’” Shae excitably questioned as she took a seat while I struggled to safety place our belongings down. “It was…enjoyable I guess.”
“See, I told you! Although, it would have been a more enjoyable experience if you had participated a bit more. You are seriously not boyfriend material. Don’t tell me you never had a girlfriend before.” She started to form a somewhat pitiful look but I quickly dismissed it.
“I’m not that much of a greenhorn. I’ve had a girlfriend once…for about two weeks.” Even then, I hadn’t spoken the entire truth. The girl in question and I never truly dated. We were a couple in name only, and never did anything that made us boyfriend and girlfriend. If Shae knew that, then she’ll never let me live it down.
Sitting down together, we watched the bustling world go by. Night was slowly descending, yet the amount of people roaming the streets grew. Larger than that of the day.”Say…do you mind if I ask you something.”
Hearing her question, I sense a faint unease in her voice. Her tone of voice suggested that she was asking for permission than asking a casual question. “Sure. What’s on your mind?” Shae was serious, so should I.
“Yesterday, when we were arguing whether or not to fight the Wumba with our full strength. I thought you were going to actually abandon them if it meant keeping ourselves hidden. Or perhaps you would have come up with some contrive plan.” Hearing Shae’s in earnest, I realized her true intention.
“I see…You are wondering why exactly I did something so out of character?” Shae simply nodded. The memory of the event flashed before my eyes. I could recount the event as it was yesterday. My thoughts and emotion swirling around inside my head. The fear, and anxiety I felt as I watched from afar.
My thoughts were conflicted, one side desperately fought to step in and help them. The other struggled to control the reckless desire. In the end the former won out and we intervened. And it was for one simple reason.
“I’m a coward. Since coming to this world, I’ve always advocated the importance of being discreet and hiding our true nature. It maybe childish of me, but I was afraid that you all might be hurt. You, Drakus, everyone from the Guild.” As I rambled on, the memory of when Drakus and I fought resurface.
At the time, we knew next to nothing about the new world we found ourselves in. There no telling of what manner of creature that inhabit this world. So when Drakus suggested saving the princess, I fought desperately to talk him out of it. In the end, we ended up fighting.
At the time, I was mentally exhausted. Hours of research, trying to find our way back home. When my attempt to reason with him, I snapped and attack out of desperation. Part of it was to destress and unwind, the second half was to knock some sense into him.
In the end, he won out. Even after apologizing, the events was engraved in my mind. Memories are so easily forgotten.
It was only during the fight with the Wumba did I truly realized how idiotic I was. “I suppose you can hypocrite to the list.” Looking back on everything, it was appropriate.
Sharing my thoughts with Shae was soothing. As if a heavy burden was lifted from my spirit, if only a little. Looking to her, I waited for her response. “…Are you an idiot?” Hearing her response, a part of me already knew what her response would be.
“I had a feeling you would say that.” I replied with a small chuckle.
“We’re not some clueless kids. We’re your friends, and we can obviously take care of ourselves. Be it Drakus, myself, or any of the others. If you truly feel that way, then try to save those who can’t before us. And if I ever see you try to weasel your way out again. I’ll smack you.”
Hearing her answer, my smile only grew. “Well if it ever comes to it, you have my permission to beat some sense into me.” My laughter continued only for Shae to scoff and turn away.
A moment of silence came to pass as we both ran out of things to say. The two of spoke what was needed to be said. It persisted until our food finally arrived our table. I as we were about to dig in, I wanted to ask her one last thing.
“Hurry up!” Before I could get a word out, a piercing scream echoed through the surrounding. Everyone’s attention were between the sudden scream and their original actions. Before long, the people’s curiosity got the better of them. A crowd of people congregated around the area.
Conveniently close to where we sat.
‘Was that…Als?’ At first, I thought that I had simply misheard her voice. However, more softer pitch screams could be heard from the general direction. It was definitely Als’s voice.
Glancing towards Shae, she too picked up on the clues. “Don’t tell me you’re going to intervene.”
“We did just have a conversation about friends and everything. It would hypocritical of us if we simply ignored her.” Revealing a sly smile, Shae’s expression soured. Walking towards the crowd, Shae’s grumbling could be heard right behind me.
Pushing through the mass of pack bodies, we had front row seats to the showings. Within the center lies Als arguing with a short plumb vendor. His clothes was traditional of a merchant. To the back of him lied his stall. An assortment of vial was placed on displace. By the look alone, the stall sealed with potions and concoctions..
“Do you need any help Als?” Walking towards the center of attention garnered equal amount attention from everyone. Reacting in surprise, Als’s expression switch from surprise to mild annoyance.
“You…what are you doing here?” Als asked with a scorn.
“Hmph.” Shae returned with a scoff. “We were on a ‘date’ and just before we could enjoy our lovely meal. Unfortunately ‘someone’ interrupted.” Shae spoke with heavy implication. To which Als returned a dagger like state. I could see the imaginary sparks flying from their intense glare.
After an intense staring contest, Als broke away. “Whatever. I have bigger worries to address.” Facing away from us, her attention turns towards the merchant. “You! What kind of stunt are you pulling!! Last time, it was 40 bronze coin but now it’s 95 bronze coins. What kind of business are you running?!” Her voice rising in anger.
“I doubt an uneducated Demi-human like you can understand.” The merchant cruelly retorted. No hiding his hostility one bit. “This potion here is worth one silver piece. It contains the ability to restores a persons health and stamina. Of course I would market it according to its true value!”
“You..you!! You said it was 95 bronze coins, now it’s a silver piece?! You fraud.” As the two bicker back and forth, my attention lied on the potion he held. The potion was a darkened crimson hue held within a crystal vial. From the outside, it certainly looked exquisite. But looks can be deceiving.
“May I please have a look at it.” Interrupting their argument, the two lied their eyes on us.
“Ah, sir. Of course.” The merchant shift her attention away from Als. His previous attitude was erased when talking to me. Holding the vial in hand, I knew immediately the answer.
“This is a fake.”
“Huh?” The two voiced overlapped.
“Taking it at face value, it certainly looks to be a decently high grade potion. However, the healing property is no different from a low tier potion. Then there is the matter of the Crimson coloring. You dyed the potion to disguise it as something greater.”
As I continued, the merchants calm attitude was shaken. Every fact I pointed caused him shake. Sweat gleamed down his head as he desperately fought to remain calm.
“You…you!! I’ll kill you!” Upon learning on this revelation, Als turned her hateful glare at the merchant. She looked ready to pounce and kill him on the spot.
“Ho…you…what proof you have to say this!” Visibly shaken, he was trying to dispel my claims. This wasn’t the first time I came across this merchant. Last time when Shae and I had our outing, I perused a variety of shops and vendors in hopes of understanding more about this new world.
I happened to came across the merchant, and took a look at the goods. Using |Identify| I was able to inspect the variety of goods. Most of the merchant goods were fakes, a scam.
“Simple, I used a spell call |Identify|. But that is beside the point, it would seem that you have been scamming my friend. I would like appropriate compensation.” Faced between Als and myself, the merchant could only panic.
“I…you!! Gien!!” Backed into a corner the merchant cried out a name. The sound of footsteps rumbled in response. Parting ways from the crowd of people, a brutishly tall individual walked towards. “Gien! Get rid of them!!” Backed into a corner, he resolved to violence.
The man simply roared and charged forward. Preparing for a fight, it was unnecessary. Intervening was Shae. Throwing a punch, Shae received the attack. Grabbing a hold of the massive arm, Shae used the momentum to lift the man into the air before swinging him back down. The man crashed into the brick floor, causing the area to shatter and break.
Seeing his last resort reduced to ruin, the merchant backed between a rock and a hard place. “You!! Don’t think you’ll get away from this! I have connections and I will–”
Before he could finish, I decided to perform an experiment. Reaching into my [Infinity Bag] I pulled out my golden armband. Those trained in the academy are ensured a future within the empire. It is said that the rank you are when you graduate determine your position within the Empire. Naturally, a gold tier student should be equivalent to a high tier noble.
Gazing the armband, the merchant halted. His mouth left a gape and his eyes widened with fear, awe, and disbelief. I couldn’t help but smirk at how quickly his attitude shifted.
“Sir. You have been doing business for a very long time. It would be a ‘shame’ if your secret were to be known by everyone. Fraudery of goods, cheating people out of their money. You’ll never build back your reputation.” Whispering in his ear, I was blackmailing him.
“What…do you want?!” His voice held an uncontrollable fear. His eyes pleading for mercy. In the end, I let him off easy on the condition that he would supply Als with the appropriate potions. Since Als is a Demi-human, many would not do business with her but a few. The merchant played off of her desperation and robbed her of her money.
By the end, Als was compensated with numerous potions and elixirs. I even managed to haggle for even higher tier potions then what Als originally paid for. With the event cleared up, the only ones to remain were the three of us.
Als clutch the bag of potions with extreme vigor. She wasn’t going to let anyone get close to them. Before the two of us parted way, Als did something I did not expect.
“Th-thank yo-ou.” Als thanked us. Unlike the previous time where they sounded fake and forced. It truly was sincere and honest. But that got me thinking. What exactly triggered her to say such a things?
“Are the potions for Alia?” Only one thing came to mind that could cause her to act so strangely. Hearing Alia’s name caused her to freeze. With her back to us, it was impossible to discern her expression.
“…Yes.” With a one word answer, Als walked away. With nothing left, we headed back to our table and cold food. As dusk finally settled across the horizon. The darken sky was illuminated by hundreds of tiny stars shimmering in the night sky.
With our ‘date’ at an end, we strode on home. “That was fine. Maybe we can try it again.”
“It would have been more perfect if Als didn’t show up.” Shae protested.
“You really don’t like her, do you? I chuckled.
It’s her attitude that I have a problem with. How the heck do you deal with her?” Shae countered, raising a question at the same time.
“Hmm. Well, I’ve grown to be tolerant of some people due to a certain tomboy.” Directing the answer towards her, Shae tightened her arm once again. Laughing while wincing in pain simultaneously, the two of us continued to joke around under the blanket of darkness.
As the two of us were enjoying ourselves, I accidently bumped into someone. What appeared to be a round object dropped. Clanking as it bounced away from the stranger.
“I’m sorry here you go.” Immediately acting, I picked up the object and handed the item to the person. A large black coat covered the individual body, even part of the face.
“Thank you. The voice was feminine, making me conclude that the individual was a female. I handed her the object as it disappeared into her cloak. When she turned to thank me, I could only see a portion of her face.
“You are welco…” Returning the generosity, my words were cut short. Instinctively taking a step back, I stared at her in silence. After several seconds, the stranger simply left. Walking away, my eyes still followed her within the dark streets. Even after she was gone from my sight, I could only stare dumbfoundly.
“Hey!” Hearing Shae’s shout, I snapped out of my daze. “Huh? Is something the matter?”
“It seems to me that you really are clueless. When you are on a date, you don’t ogle at another girl.” Complaining, I could only shake my head. “No…that wasn’t it.”
When she turned to thank me, I could only see a portion of her face. It could have been my eyes or the dark setting, but her eyes was eerie. If it weren’t for my enhanced vision, I might have missed her eyes. They were void, a swirling abyss of darkness.
A mere glance alone was enough to cause my body to freeze up. I could still feel the terrifying chill climbing up my spine as I tried to control myself. Her presence alone was eerie, like a Spector roaming the planet.
In the end, she was gone and I was left with my own speculation. All that night I could stop thinking about her and her eyes. Slowly I start to question our encounter. There was a sense of foreboding of what’s to come next.