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Chapter 22 - Sisters on their Knees

Now Liene looked at the count in horror also. She chuckled, leaned back, she stared at the tray of food before her. "Why would you ever think such a preposterous thing? Monastery, lost? Hah!"

The count flipped his tray and all the bowls of hardly eaten food on it onto the floor before them, and slammed a fist on the side of his seat, causing the maidservants to jump and shrink back, Elexa and Diane to flinch, and Liene to fall silent. "How dare you. How dare you try to delude me!" He nodded to himself, staring up at the ceiling. "I should have seen it sooner, the signs were all there. You coming to ask me for aid despite your order going it alone all these years. You bringing these others with you, all the better to help you convince me in their own separate ways. Trying to get me drunk on hopes of glory and triumph. Wanting our forces to regroup in a nameless, unsuitable village, then refusing to let them anywhere near the monastery when I suggested it, grasping at any excuses you could think of to try to keep me in the dark. And you almost pulled it off, too. If I hadn't given the matter any further thought, you would have conned me into committing my men to dying for you."

Liene fell to her knees. In that manner, she scuttled into the middle of the room, to kneel before the count. "My lord, that was not my intention!" -- "Really now? And just when were you going to tell me about this?" -- "We were going to…" Liene left off, looking ashamed. "I admit, I haven't been honest with you. I was afraid how you'd react if we'd told you the truth--" -- "And you didn't fear my anger when I found I'd been misled?" -- "I was wrong, my lord. I shouldn't have misled you. But please understand, our monastery is in a vulnerable state. Plenty of potential enemies could come out of the woodwork if our order revealed our weakness, enemies we are in no position to fight, and we thought, the fewer people we told about our situation, the safer we'd be." -- "And you classified me as an enemy?" -- Liene threw out her hands in protest. "Never!" -- "Why don't you tell me the truth this time," said the count, his voice hard and cold. "Unless you think we're not to be trusted, in which case I think we're done here."

Liene nodded. "It all started when, several nights ago, the redskins attacked our monastery. One moment we were all safe and secure, and the next moment they… It was a massacre. Redskins, everywhere. They slaughtered many of my fellow sisters."

"How was that possible? Your monastery had at least some basic fortifications, it should have held out against anything except a siege."

"They didn't besiege the monastery. They didn't have to. They found our secret exit and came in that way." -- "Secret entrance?" -- "Sister Liene, you can't tell them about our secret entrance?" -- "Might as well. Secret's out anyways. We had a secret passage leading from the catacombs in the bottom level of our cellar, to a remote place in the nearby mountains. It was a tightly guarded secret of our order; even I hadn't known about it until after it all happened. Someone high up in our sisterhood must have leaked the secret to the redskins. And their attack from there, in the middle of the night, took us all by surprise.

"We fought back, but there were too many of them, and they had their elders reanimate their fallen to send them back at us. In the cramped quarters of our monastery, our ways of the bow proved ineffective. We were forced to flee from the monastery." Tears fell down Liene's cheeks. She continued, choking. "We… lost many of our finest sisters…. They stayed behind to fight to buy the rest of us time to flee. We fled all through the night, and regrouped at Thistledown, the village nearest the monastery and along the main road. There we waited for our sisters to return to us, but… Many never did. And now the redskins have grown bolder, they move about through the forests to the east, striking out at hamlets and villages all along the silk road…"

"So it is true, you have lost your monastery," said the count, looking worried. "To think, you had conspired to keep such a thing from me… After that, how in hell do you expect me to trust you, much less dispatch my forces to assist your sisterhood?"

"You have to understand! The sacrifices my fellow sisters had made… That they are continuing to make day after day… We can't let their sacrifice be in vain. Bow-mother Kashya charged us with bringing back allies to help us in our plight, that we might not fight this war alone…"

"Hah! You wanted the support of my forces, did you? In fact, you're desperate for them, aren't you? Well you shan't have them, not a single one. Teaches you to lie to my face."

No, thought Art, staring at the count in abject horror. This was what he, Liene, and Roland had been afraid might happen if the count had an inkling of the truth, and the disaster was folding right before his eyes.

Liene looked up at him in shock. "… But you said--" -- The count raised an eyebrow at her. -- "I am very, very sorry, my lord. Please, on behalf of our acquaintanceship--" -- "Acquainted? Since when? Because if I recall correctly, this is only the second time we've ever met. Now you wish your sisterhood had visited my court more often? Now you regret having your sisters so cloistered up in the monastery that they rarely visit this town a mere four days' walk away? Well now it's too late, stranger."

Liene stared at the count with a look of abject desperation. "I admit I may be a bit presumptious to call you our friend, but please… We can't return empty-handed, my lord! Please! I know I have wronged you… But that was all my doing, and I take all the responsibility for it…" She gulped. "I am ready to pay for it with my life. I only ask that you not direct your anger at the sisterhood. They have done nothing wrong. Please, please don't withdraw your support for our order!" Teary-eyed, she set her arms down before her and kowtowed, once, twice, thrice.

"Humph. You think just scraping the floor like this is enough to earn my forgiveness? The presumption you showed, that you continue to show…"

"I'll make up for it! I'll do whatever you want, be it to toil for you or dance for you, so be it, if that's what it takes for me to earn your forgiveness--"

"Even if I have you licking the floor for the rest of your life, that wouldn't move me to lift a finger to help your sisterhood," the count retorted. "Don't think so highly of yourself, Liene. I couldn't care less whether you indentured yourself to me for the rest of your life or strung up a rope and hung yourself right here, right now."

Liene looked up at him, for a moment at a loss for words. "Then… What then do you want from me… from us? If you would provide us with your assistance, then our sisterhood--"

"Can't possibly do anything to make it worth my while. 'But', you say, 'You'd already agreed to support us with a hundred men-at-arms, how you would disgrace yourself from going back on your word simply because the sisterhood had fallen on hard times!' That's what you're thinking right now, isn't it?" He leaned forward in his chair. "Ah! But I had made my agreement with the sisterhood of the monastery -- the sisterhood that holds the monastery pass, that ensures the continued operation of merchant traffic on through the desert to Aranoch.

"But what are you -- nay, your sisterhood -- to me, to Tristram, now? You retain no control over the monastery. You can't ensure the safety of the caravans passing through. You admitted as much yourself. Your sisterhood holds at some backwater village in the middle of nowhere, unable to retake the monastery without forcing a siege and incurring unbearable losses. If you couldn't hold it against the invading redskins when you fought within the monastery, you certainly stand no chance of retaking it now, when you must put it under siege and either attack them directly, which I doubt you have the manpower for, or starve them out, which I doubt you can afford."

"But we could attack through the--" -- "Secret passageway? I doubt the path remains open. After all, the redskins had attacked through that very same approach, did they not? They'd be fools not to recognize that another could invade their monastery in the same way, and they already know that the sisterhood knows of that passage. No, I don't think you'll be able to duplicate their feat.

"And that means the monastery will remain in their hands, for the time being. And that means your order will be consigned to irrelevance. What is the vaunted 'rogue sisterhood' without their all-important pass? I'll tell you what you are. You're nothing but another group of vagabonds living off the pilfered labor of others.

"And not just that, either. His majesty has denounced you all as rogues for refusing to bend the knee before him. Once upon a time, when you held your monastery, you could disregard him blithely. He'd have to commit a sizable number of troops all the way to the far eastern end of the kingdom, to besiege and take your citadel, and a king has much better things to do. But I doubt you can ignore him so easily now. You have angered the king, you fools. Do you know who he is? He's a man, yes, but a man with a hundred thousand soldiers under his command should he desire it. You may be fools, but I'm not. I have a town and a great many outlying villages that I am responsible for, and I will not have their blood wantonly spilled fighting on behalf of an enemy of my king. I owe as much to the men who have entrusted me with their lives, and I would be most remiss to do otherwise."

"I understand you have no interest for our sisterhood, but even if you don't care one whit about us, at least think of the prosperity of your own citizens! There's still the redskins, and so long as they hold the monastery and its pass, the merchants passing though Tristram shall have no means to reaching the east through here. Without the pass, what incentive would they have to pass through Tristram in the first place? Without the trade flowing through, your town will quickly reduce to but a shadow of its former self. Can you abide while that happens?"

"Oh, I think your being holed up in your quaint little abode has left you with an imbalanced sense of our town's robust economy if you think this place to be just one big caravanserai. I'll have you know, Tristram is the local trade hub for hundreds of surrounding villages, as well as a connection to the towns further north, south, east, and west. We don't by any means depend on the silk road. Besides, yours is hardly the only approach to the east. Even with the monastery pass closed indefinitely, there's also the Duergar Pass some hundred miles to the southeast, and all the trade from the north will come to Tristram on their way south. I daresay we'll do fine. The same, I believe, cannot be said of your little sisterhood. You depend on tariffs on the caravaners to maintain your livelihoods, do you not? For your order to survive, you have to retake the monastery as soon as possible. You can't wait, can you?"

Liene was starting to seem very much cornered on this front. "Even if your town manages to survive, you'll have far less in your coffers in the months and years hence with the monastery gates closed and the path a danger to all passersby. Your personal treasury would fare much better if we retake the monastery."

"Well then it is fortunate for our town that your sisterhood yet exists in some strength, does it not? The Order of the Sightless Eye, world-renowned masters of the bow and arrow. Surely the enemy you fight is naught but cockroaches before you? I would expect you'd have the monastery reclaimed before the fortnight is out… Or at least put your all into as good of a fight as you can give them."

"My lord…" she said, looking aghast. "You mean to have us sisters bleed ourselves to death fighting to reclaim the monastery, don't you? Without any of your help? Knowing full well that we'll suffer massive casualties in doing so, losses which would take decades to recover from? During which time we'll be in no condition to safeguard the monastery? So that you could take it from us at your leisure, with nary any losses of your own, once our sisterhood and the redskins have bled each other dry? To claim it over our dead bodies?"

"Well, if you believe you're not up to the task, then I'll have to consider alternatives. If even his majesty couldn't be bothered with seizing the monastery, with all the forces he can summon, then I don't think a mere count such as I can presume to do either. In that case, we'll have no other option but to deal with the redskins. If they have the manpower to seize the monastery, then they have the manpower to ensure the safety of the merchant traffic through the pass."

The count turned to his chancellor. "Bjorn, I want you to find a means to get us in touch with the redskins that have claimed the monastery. Ask them what would persuade them to agree to an alliance with us. If their price is that we mop up the remnants of the sisterhood for them, well that's negotiable too." -- Liene exclaimed, "My lord, what are you saying!" -- The count turned back to her. "Why, smart diplomacy, of course."

Oh, no, thought Art. That was exactly what he'd been afraid would be the outcome, a sisterhood without a bastion, surrounded by enemies on both sides…

"My lord," said Bjorn, bending down close to the count's ear. "I'm not sure how feasible that would be, given events this morning." -- "Why, what happened this morning?" -- "I have heard tell that some of the sisters that had gone to buy supplies in the marketplace had caused quite the uproar in the markets district this morning. Came upon some competition with other buyers and started screaming their heads off at them. The passersby were very much startled and the merchants were very much displeased."

Art looked away, both proud and embarassed. Proud, for it would make it that less likely for the sisterhood to incur a new enemy. Embarassed, for he'd been the instigator of it all, of course, but since he hadn't been wearing anything identifying, observers had only caught on to Blaise and Ryann's presence, in their brown and white gambesons, and had blamed it all on them.

"I will make sure to inquire into the matter, rest assured the instigators will be punished appropriately." Liene replied. -- Bjorn looked sternly at Liene. "Why, you haven't even the slightest clue what I'm talking about, do you?" He turned back. "My lord… By 'displeased', I meant 'all their wares ruined', and by 'startled' I meant 'heads rolled'." -- Liene stared at him aghast, then said, downcast, "It won't happen again." -- Bjorn continued, "My lord would be well advised that under such circumstances, not only would the public of Tristram not stand in support of an alliance with the redskins, but the redskins would seek retribution against us for their dead. I am told over a dozen of them were slain in the incident, and it has happened in our territory and under our watch, after all."

Art cursed inwardly as the chancellor spoke. If it turned out something like this caused woe to befall the sisterhood, then his plan would have backfired, and all those innocent bystanders would have been sacrificed in vain, if not worse, and he would have to bear the guilt of it for the rest of his life…

The count grew outraged as he heard what the chancellor had to say. "Who dared do such a thing? Find the sisters responsible and bring them before me! I shall have their heads!"

"No, please," Liene begged, sinking even lower on her knees. "Even if they had done wrong, it would be because I had been lax in their instruction, and they know no better. I bear the responsibility for this. If you must punish someone, punish me, but please, I beg, you, please spare them!"

The count leapt out of his chair, pointed an accusing finger at Liene. "You! You orchestrated that, didn't you?" -- Still on her knees, Liene backed a step away, baffled and startled. -- "How dare you meddle in our affairs? How presumptuous of you, to drag us into the war without our consent, by fighting your foes on our soil, when we had given them right of passage? You think that by doing this, you will have succeeded in driving a wedge between us and the redskins? I've had enough of your manipulations. Guards, seize her!"

With a metal ring, six guards surrounding them had their swords unsheathed, and before anyone else had reacted, two of them had brought their swords up to Liene's neck, one in front and one behind. She gaped wide-eyed at the count.

"If I may suggest," said Bjorn, "This one seems completely unaware of the matter, and it may turn out she was not responsible after all. I believe if you allowed the matter to be investigated and the true culprits identified, that the townspeople would praise you for an act most wise. After all, if we execute the wrong suspect it leaves the true culprits free to act again, and I doubt they'd refrain from making a fool out of you."

The count glared at Liene in silent fury, as if unable to make up his mind.

This wasn't good, Art thought. At this rate the count would be dead set to wage war against the sisterhood. Tristramers would die, sisters would die, the redskins would be free to attack all around, Thistledown would get attacked, and the Bedfords and Selena… He couldn't let any harm come to someone as innocent as her, and that meant he had to distract the count from his anger, redirect it toward another.

He stood up. "My lord, Liene and the sisterhood had nothing to do with what happened this morning. If you ask any witnesses of the incident, you'll find that the redskins had done all the killing. But if you must punish the instigator of the whole affair, well, that would be me. I whipped the redskins into a frenzy, causing them to go into a rampage."

Everyone looked at him like he'd grown an extra arm. He chuckled. Well, now that he'd gotten the count's attention and likely his wrath, might as well go all the way. In a lackadaisical manner, he said, "Why did I do it? Easy. Damn redskins don't deserve any mercy and ought to be killed anywhere they're found, collateral damage be damned. And the merchants, too, I regret not having the opportunity to slaughter them all as well, and string them out by their entrails, for trying to trade with them. Anyone who consorts with such creatures ought to be killed with the most extreme prejudice, especially anyone who attempts to court them for an alliance."

"You're trying really hard to get yourself killed," said the count, appraising him. "But I for one don't believe a word of what you said. What are you trying to pull? You want me to spare her, don't you?"

"You misconstrue me," said Art, grinning. "I'd perfectly like to see you 'off with her head' Liene. But do it in public, would you? In front of all the sisters. After putting her in the pillory for a day and a night. And let me give a speech right before. It would be quite the revenge for her pillorying me, to see justice where it were due." -- Liene shot Art a look that said, If he kills me for this, I'll be haunting you for the rest of my unlife.

The count sat back down on his chair, his fury seemingly spent, and he waved at the guards, who immediately sheathed their blades and retreated back to the sides of the room. As Liene rubbed at her neck, the count turned to Bjorn, "Is it true that the redskins had done all the killing and that the sisters had, after instigating the violence, attempted to quell it?" -- "Yes, my lord." -- "You should have mentioned that too." -- "I am guilty, my lord, and deserve to be punished." -- "Eh, forget it."

He turned to Liene. "You are most fortunate that you have a good talker such as him looking out for you and being willing to stick his neck out for yours. I don't feel like shedding any blood today. So, on account of your outstanding relations with the sisterhood, and that it all accounts indicate that your sisters attempted to defend the civilians from the rampaging redskins, I will overlook this incident. But you will go and ensure such as this never happens again, or I shall show your order no leniency. Attacking innocents out of nowhere, causing mass panic and blood to run through the streets, all for political gain? Your sisters can go take their terrorism somewhere else."

Liene nodded. "My lord is most benevolent."

That charge, thought Art… he hadn't thought of it in that light at the time, but now that he thought of it, it did fit. And yet, he couldn't bring himself to think he'd done anything wrong. If it would prevent the redskins from gaining power enough to attack the sisterhood and the numerous settlements out west, then it was for a worthy cause.

The count humphed. "Well?" he asked, turning to Bjorn. "If you were or knew witnesses who were there… What did the sisters end up buying?" -- "Nothing, actually, from what they said. More likely, they've bought very little."

"Humph. And after all that ruckus, it didn't seem like your sisters managed to buy anything after all. You said you'll be headed back east tomorrow? It's already three in the afternoon. Seems not only are your wards eager to start a fight, they can't manage even the simplest of tasks." -- Liene flinched at that as if slapped. -- Art flinched too. -- "Were the sisters just there in the marketplace to stir up trouble, then?"

Liene frantically put up her hands. "No, never! We were looking to buy supplies…." -- "Then how come you haven't bought much?" -- "We… we…" -- The count nodded knowingly. "You don't have the money, do you? Well if you'd needed money, you should have said so."

Liene looked up at him with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "Oh, thank you my lord, thank you--"

The count gestured, and the chancellor set a money bag in his hands. The count took a few little silver coins out and dribbled them coin by coin upon the dais under his chair, pointedly looking at Liene with a haughty look on his face. If you want it, come and get it."

Liene crossed her arms. "Now you are just mocking our sisterhood! Who said we were in desperate need for your silver?" -- The count looked askance at her. "Oh, and are you not?" -- "We may be in need of money, but we're not that desperate. At tenpence per wagon passing through our gates, we've massed a substantial war chest." -- "Ah, but question is, did you manage to bring it out of your monastery that night? No, you wouldn't have. You barely managed to escape with your lives, didn't you?" -- "We brought enough of it with us." -- "Oh? Then why are you coming to us? Doesn't the sisterhood always resolve its problems on its own? No, you're only here because you really are that desperate for assistance." -- "We will manage just fine without you or your silver."

"What matters more to you, Liene? Your pride, or my pennies? Very well," he said. He leaned down to pick up one of the dropped coins, then put it back in his money bag.

Liene stared at the small heap of coins under the count's chair for several moments with an obvious look of longing. Then she dropped her head in shame, and walked on her knees over to the dais. -- "Ah, and so the truth comes out," said the count with a grin. -- Liene lowered herself and reached down under the chair where the count sat, and collected the coins in silent humiliation, even as the count burst out into laughter. The guards looked on, grins creeping up their faces. Elexa and Diane stared after Liene, pained looks on their faces, while the others watched her, shocked.

The count then took some more coins out of his money bag and scattered them all about the room. Liene, and then Elexa and Diane, went clambering after each individual penny even as the count broke out into guffaws and his guards started to laugh at their desperation. One of the guards set a boot on one of the coins as Liene approached. The guard leaned down, sneering. "You want that coin? Well you can kiss my boots for it," he said. Liene, still on her knees, glared up at him for a moment, then lowered her head and started licking the top of first one boot, then the other, prompting the guards to burst into laughter. The one guard then raised the boot covering the coin, saying "Kiss the bottom of it too," and in a flash Liene had plucked the coin from underneath his feet and was off scrounging for the next coin, causing the guard to face-palm himself. As she passed him by, Art saw her tears flowing freely, staining her gambeson.

"I can't bear to watch this," muttered Warriv with a grimace, standing up. He bowed to the count, saying, "I must take my leave," then left. -- Jezebel turned to Art, whispering, "Why are they doing this? Is their sisterhood really this desperate?" -- "Well don't just stand there, pick up some," Art said, as he got off his feet and joined the sisters in scrounging for coins, as Jezebel watched in disbelief. He managed to scrabble up two pennies, and handed them to Jezebel. -- "What's this?" -- "Twopence, obviously." -- "I meant what for?" -- "I was owing you that, wasn't I? I'm a man of principles."

The count stood up, looking down upon his guests. "Is this what has become of the once glorious sisterhood?" he said, getting the attention of the teary-eyed sisters. "Scrabbling about for silver coins like harlots? You are a disgrace to your forebears, which I had held in such high regard. The woe that befalls you today, and every day from here on out, is but that of your own making." He turned to Art's side of the room. "And you. I don't know what you see in their order, to cast your lot with them. Is it your mission to continue east? Take a hint from this. Understand that the monastery is not going to be reopened anytime soon, certainly not by the rogues. Take the Duergar Pass, and let the sisters fall all by their lonesome."

Art wanted to speak up on behalf of the sisters, but he kept quiet, knowing that any further claim of affiliation with the sisters to try to get the count to reconsider would only further displease him and bring his wrath down upon them all. He turned to Roland, who was shaking his head at Art, a gesture that all but whispered 'no, don't'. And if Roland thought that if he was going to do what Roland thought he was about to do, well, he shouldn't, then he shouldn't.

Instead he bowed to the count. "Wise words, my lord. Thank you for opening my eyes to the truth."

The count turned back to the sisters, who were kneeling huddled on the floor, sharing their misery in silence. "You came here seeking aid, and got all you deserved. Now get out. Get out of my court, out of my town, and don't come back, you or any of your sisterhood. Or if you ever do come back, I shall have you strung up by the neck and hanged for instigating the slaughter from this morning, you and anyone else who dares to return. Now get!"

In terror, Liene and her sisters fled from the room. Art, Jezebel, and Roland followed in their footsteps. The ones who had given up their weapons received them back at the atrium in silence, then they exited the keep to huddle on the other side of the street, which thankfully had few other passersby. The sun had started to dip in the sky, shining its golden evening rays.

Diane was crying inconsolably, burying her face into Liene's bosum. "Please, don't cry," said Elexa, laying a hand on Diane's back. "We'll make do on our own, just like we always have, right?" she asked, turning to Liene. Liene stared off into the distance with a glazed look on her face, unresponsive.

"I can't believe how the count would just turn on the sisterhood like this," said Jezebel, sounding furious and with her fists clenched. "All that he said up front, that was just for show, wasn't it? The moment the sisterhood showed its weakness, he turned coat, just like that! I've always known men to generally to be an untrustworthy lot, but that, that takes things to new heights! What, he thinks he can just push the sisterhood around like that, just because they're an all-women order?"

"I'm sorry we couldn't have been of more help," Warriv offered to Liene with a note of sorrow. Liene for her part hardly seemed to notice. Warriv turned aside with a sigh.

Art looked up from the cobblestones beneath him, to Warriv. Warriv had managed to withdraw some silver he'd previously loaned or entrusted to his associates here, or perhaps he'd borrowed some from them. Enough to restart his trade, this time as a peddler perhaps. As caravan leader, he was probably one of the better off caravaners of the lot. The sisterhood needed money, and here was someone he knew, who would have his ear, and who had also seen first-hand how the sisterhood had been thus betrayed, who might be willing to help the sisterhood out in their time of need…

But no. Warriv had lost so much when he'd been forced to abandon his wagon back at the monastery, along with all the goods within it. What money he had to spend was money he'd surely need to get back on his feet, money to provide for both the man and his family. Art couldn't ask Warriv to give that up for the sisterhood, not when he had no ties to their order. For him to ask it of him would be a terrible abuse of their friendship, and he treasured it too highly for that.

Warriv turned to Art and met his look with a somber one of his own. "I think it's best we left, Art. There's nothing we can do for them, and I'm sure they'll be wanting some time to themselves right now. Besides, there's a lot more we still need to buy for our journey tomorrow." He began to walk away from them, only to turn back a moment later to see Art still hadn't moved. "Art?" -- "Go ahead without me. I will catch up later," Art replied. Upon hearing that, Warriv turned and left.

"What are we going to do?" Diane asked, clutching at Liene's gambeson. -- Elexa replied, "We'll have to buy our supplies, like we set out to do." -- "But… Liene was…" Diane looked downcast, cheeks flushed. "We don't have much money at all, do we?" -- "The fact that we don't have as much silver to work with as we'd hoped doesn't change that, it just means we'll have to make do with less." -- "But sister, we need that money. Without it, how can we possibly buy all the things we need?" -- Elexa looked at a loss. "I… have no idea…" -- "Can we even continue this war, sister?" Diane asked, looking forlorn. -- No reply. -- "This is it then, isn't it? Our sisterhood forced to disband, all of us going our separate ways in a world we barely know--" -- "Hush, Diane, listen to yourself! Have you so little trust in your fellow sisters? After all the years we've known each other?" -- "But then sister, what are we going to do?"

Art watched them in silent pity. Without the aid they'd been hoping for all along their journey here, he knew, their morale would be absolutely crushed. Amplisa hadn't wanted to tell the rank and file just how little they had, and when Roland pried the facts out of her, the sisters who'd heard had collapsed in dismay. Now that the sisterhood had next to nothing and needed to spend it all, there would be no keeping secrets from their rank and file. And if, upon hearing such terrible news, some of the sisters were to desert? That would really bring the sisterhood to its knees.

Elexa turned to Liene. "Elder sister Liene will know what to do. Liene. Liene!" she shouted. Liene snapped out of her daze and adopted a stoic look, turning to look at her two fellow sisters. "Elder sister Liene, please tell us, what shall we do?"

Liene had no reply.

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