My dream, while having a disturbing element to it, was not the kind of threatening, fearful environment that would have made for the conditions of another tsucora attack. I mostly recalled wandering the caves where I had hatched and lived my first few seasons, looking for something terribly important, while repeatedly being turned away by ghosts of tribe members angry about my having let them die. Despite the surreality of the scenario I never quite recognized that there was something wrong about it that signalled it as a dream; it seemed that the trick of this "lucid dreaming" technique would not come to me quite so easily, but I resolved to keep at it.

Jeslaryun came in to check on me in the morning, Illyvalen having apparently already departed before I awoke. After inquiring about my back, which no longer pained me, she sat down on the writing desk chair, facing me and peering at me for about a minute before speaking again.

"So, I think we kind of got off on the wrong foot. With the way Illyvalen reacts and behaves so innocently toward everything, it's kind of easy to forget sometimes... that she's actually really a pretty good judge of character, and does know how to keep herself out of trouble. If she wants to take a chance on you, then she sees something in you I don't, and you probably deserve the benefit of the doubt. I'm going to try to lighten up a bit. But there is one thing I have to tell you straight, no sugar-coating to be "polite". Our family is well-connected, especially Uncle Noremdal and Aunt Desrala. Illyvalen's their only child, and she means more to them than their own lives. If anyone were to hurt Illyvalen, and they found out about it... the kind of retribution they would bring about would be difficult to imagine. I don't think anyone else in our family would be particularly forgiving either."

I nodded solemnly to this. "If Illyvalen were brought to harm, I believe I would desire revenge against those responsible as well."

Jeslaryun blinked at me a couple times; clearly this wasn't quite the response she had expected from me. "Ah. So long as we understand each other, then. I understand you offered to help out around the clinic? We could use it; a few of our usual people have had... family issues to deal with recently. I'll show you the ropes."

I spent the next few hours performing various menial tasks around the clinic, initially alongside Jeslaryun; when it was clear that I had a full understanding of what needed to be done, she excused herself to see to other matters and I continued unsupervised. By the time she returned to tell me to take a lunch break, she seemed impressed at the progress I had made. Being praised as a hard worker felt strange; in my past experiences, hard work was what kept you from being berated and punished... some of the time. Even if one discounted the expectations of my captors, it was my understanding that among my kind industriousness was a standard to be met, not a mark of distinction. Yet, if it was something to recognize here, perhaps that would prove to be advantageous in establishing a place for myself.

Illyvalen returned to the clinic about the time I was preparing to return to work. "How are things going here? Are you up for some more errands?"

Jeslaryun interrupted before I could respond. "One hour. Just give me one more hour. She's worth two of Mauruto, and at this rate I might not have to stay late finishing up."

Illyvalen giggled slightly at the almost comical look of desperation Jeslaryun adopted, and grinned widely. "There's no great hurry on my part, but I'd say that's up to Tikra."

The pleading look Jeslaryun sent my way seemed false, but more in the sense of play-acting than deception. There was some genuine earnestness in her request, though, so I nodded. "I will continue my efforts here for now."

Once I had finished my tasks to Jeslaryun's satisfaction, we made our way back to the tailor's shop again for the fitting of the vest and a second outfit, this one in lighter, muted colors. The pants took a little more adjustment than had been needed in my previous outfit, but it was still less than an hour before we had finished. The next fitting, which would include all the remaining outfits ordered, was set for the following week.

We next made our way to the Library District. Not far from the Central Library Building we had visited yesterday, we entered a small building marked with a sign reading "Identification and Immigration Services". The interior had a few different offices, a reception counter, and a pair of tables, one of typical size and one of the appropriate height for humans. Chairs sized for both gnomes and humans lined the wall to one side of the door.

From the moment we entered I had the sense of being scrutinized intently by people I could not see. I tried to pay no more mind to this sense than to the gnomes who were actually, visibly staring at me as Illyvalen walked up to the counter, conversed quietly for a moment, and then returned with a few sheets of paper. Taking a seat at the smaller table and motioning for me to do so as well, she spread out the pages and explained each one. These were known as "forms" and were made up of several prompts for information and spaces for the information to be written. Said prompts ranged from simple to bewildering, and Illyvalen had to assist me with some or in a great many cases direct me to mark a brief series of glyphs that she indicated stood for "not applicable."

Date of Birth was an issue that arose immediately. Setting aside the minor detail that I had not been born per se, I knew only the season of my hatching, not the precise date on a calendar I had only recently learned. Illyvalen assured me that it really only needed to be accurate to within a month, and a good faith estimate was fine; it could be corrected later should we ever learn the exact date. Thus my claimed "Date of Birth" became the first of Aryth, 987 Y.K., based on my best guess as to how deep into the season my hatching had been, and Illyvalen's guidance on mapping to the Galifarian calendar.

Illyvalen directed me to list the address of her residence as my own place of residence and provided the date of my arrival in Korranberg. For the explanation of my arrival in Zilargo itself, after some discussion, Illyvalen suggested it would be best to claim to be a "stateless person" originating from within Zilargo's borders, on the assumption that it was probably more likely my place of hatching had been on the Zil side of the border than on the Cyran/Darguul side given that I had actually made it to the western edge of the Seawalls by myself. While I knew that my point of origin during my flight had not been the place where I'd hatched, the logic was still sound enough; it was not that unlikely that the territory my captors had claimed for themselves was on the Zil side of the border, as that border was enforced by the Zil only where they had mining interests.

After each of the prompts had been answered or marked as inapplicable, the final page had space for a more open-ended explanation of any relevant details. It was here that I wrote out an explanation of my limited knowledge and the reasons for uncertainty surrounding some of the information provided. Once Illyvalen had looked over everything twice and was satisfied that it was all in order, I wrote my name on the final prompt, asserting to the veracity of the information provided. Illyvalen brought the papers to the counter, spoke briefly with the receptionist again, and then returned. "They'll want an interview with you. I won't be able to come along, but I think we've talked about all the important stuff that will come up. Just be truthful and explain why you don't know what you don't know. You should be okay. Everything you say in the interview will be treated as a secret; they won't share it with those who don't need to know, so you don't have to worry about gossip or anything."

We waited in chairs along the wall for several minutes, and eventually a female gnome stepped out of one of the back offices, came to the waiting area, and called my name. Forcing calm, I stood and followed her to a stairway leading below ground, and into a small chamber with a single small table and two chairs. I sat in the chair indicated as the gnome closed the door, then sat down across from me and placed a folder in front of her on the table. As the door closed, I noticed the number 2 briefly appear and disappear on its surface.

"Firstly, anything said here is in strict confidence. The Trust will be informed of what they need to know, but it does not go beyond. That is a duty we take very seriously, the price for which is absolute honesty. We cannot abide lies or prevarication if the peace of our city is at stake. This room is enchanted against any outside eavesdropping or scrying. It is also enchanted to prevent lying. Now, I've read your application. I've also read several outside reports about you, and there are a number of details that need to be cleared up if we're to extend you the benefits you've requested. You can answer all my questions to my satisfaction, or you can walk out that door and remain a visitor in our city until it is time for you to move on. Do you understand?"

I clamped down hard on the sense of dread that threatened to overtake me and responded in a steady voice. "I understand."

"You list your place of origin as the Seawall Mountains, but you've provided no details about your tribe or its territory. Are you iredar or irvhir?"

I blinked in surprise at this question. Even my captors had not seemed to grasp this division in my race, noting only that some of us sometimes tried to kill each other if we were left together unsupervised. This was the first time I'd heard these terms used by a non-kobold, and I wondered if my interviewer truly understood the difference, or merely thought she was asking if I was something akin to those in Zil society who claimed reverence for the Dark Six or associated with the so-called cults of the Dragon Below. In some ways it felt like a strange question to be asked. Gnomes had a perfectly good sense of smell; why was it not obvious? But I could not fault someone who had probably never encountered another kobold before for not knowing my scent from the stench of those formed from Khyber's blood.... "I am iredar."

The gnome simply nodded impassively. "How long did you live with your tribe?"

I winced, unsurprised that this had come up but still not quite prepared for it. I took a moment to be sure I could keep my voice steady before responding. "Long enough to see the season of my hatching come again. About fourteen of your months."

"That's quite young to be estranged from your tribe. Not to mention a lot of time unaccounted for between that separation and your arrival in our city, appearing beaten to near death. And then there's that mark that's been reportedly seen on your back, that no one seems to recognize. I don't suppose you can tell us what that means?"

This was it... the moment I dreaded since I first found myself in this place. Yet there was a strange, serene calm that came with it, as if I was somehow floating above all my fears. This was why I truly wanted— no, needed to stay. This was what I was asking them for. I had to be able to admit to someone just what I was running from if I was ever going to feel safe.

"That mark identifies me... as property of the Gan'vorhaa clan."

The gnome leaned back in her chair, her eyes widening. The dispassionate tone she had held thus far was abandoned as she muttered. "Damn the Six.... I'd heard reports, though it's difficult to get good intelligence on Darguun...." She narrowed her eyes at me, and her voice turned a bit colder, though not emotionless. "You don't exactly have the bearing of a slave."

"It seems unlikely that cowering or servility will serve me here. I can abase myself when I must to survive."

The gnome sighed and shook her head, then looked over the papers in the folder in front of her. "This puts what I'm seeing here in a different light.... I take it you were taken from your tribe? How did that occur?"

"My tribe was attacked. I was too young to defend. I only know that the attack came deep into our territory. They came upon the chamber where the juveniles lived. They killed the adults that stayed to defend us, and killed several juveniles as well. I was taken alive. I do not know if any others survived.... I saw bodies everywhere as I was dragged out...."

This time it was the gnome who was struggling to maintain her composure. "I... I see... and you were... taken to Darguun at this time?"

"I was chained and forced to march to caves claimed by the Gan'vorhaa. I do not know on which side of your border."

"Then you were not taken out of the mountains?"

"I never left the mountains before the circumstances that brought me here."

"And those were?"

"The Gan'vorhaa were attacked by a bugbear clan. The distraction gave an opportunity. I helped free a few slaves and we ran when there was an opening."

"Yet you arrived alone. What happened to the others?"

"We scattered to make it harder to follow and capture us. I don't know what happened to the others. I ran as fast and far as I could. I was nearly captured again, but got away. Was hurt. Kept running. Don't remember everything. Ledge overlooking a road. Fell into cart...." My words were coming out in a rush and I realized I might not be making sense.... I had lost control of my tone as well and I was trembling as my remembered flight made me feel like I should be jumping out of my chair and running now. I clung to the armrests and closed my eyes, trying desperately to force my emotions down, to control the anxiety of reliving those memories.

After a few minutes I felt like it would be possible to speak clearly again. "I am sorry to have made such a display. Do you need me to try to explain again?"

"N-no.... I think I... understood the important parts.... I think I have what I need to assess your background. I am concerned about this Gan'vorhaa clan, if they are operating on the western Seawalls.... With your permission, I'd like to bring in someone from the Library, an expert on goblin cultures, to debrief you on your experiences. If there's a possibility they may pose a threat to Zilargo, it could be very important for us to know as much as possible about them. After all, our safety is your safety, if you are going to be staying with us."

I nodded. The gnome stood up, asked me to wait here, and exited the room. After about five minutes she returned along with the gnome I had so briefly spoken to yesterday at the library. This time, upon closing of the door, the number three glowed briefly on the surface, seeming to confirm my supposition about the purpose of the previous number's appearance.

"This is Lynara Tal Davandi. She's one of the senior researchers in the Soladas college, and an expert on both ancient and modern goblin cultures. While information about this particular clan may end up being used and disseminated, she has agreed to keep your role in it a secret. Is that acceptable?"

I nodded and looked to the other gnome, who was standing near the door and looking at me with the same cool and impassive gaze as yesterday. "You speak goblin?"

"Of course."


She shook her head. "Use whichever you're more comfortable with, Common or Goblin. Now, let's start from the top. What is the name of this clan?"


"That sounds like a Ghaal'dar clan. They mostly inhabit the lowlands of Darguun. You encountered them in the Seawalls?"

I frowned at this, thinking. If this was just a researcher who had been called in on short notice, then it had been an oversight to have informed her of the details of where I encountered the clan prior to bringing her into the conversation. Unless one other operating premise was false....

"I am a gnome." My eyes widened, then narrowed. While the statement felt a bit off, like I hadn't been able to say it quite right, it nonetheless had been made. "It is possible to lie in here."

The gnome who had been interviewing me earlier blinked in surprised confusion, but the researcher whistled in an impressed manner and commented, "You are an interesting one. Yes, it is possible for some people to resist part of the effect of that enchantment some of the time. Even so, I think you would find it difficult to lie convincingly to either of us here. As for whether we could lie to you... who can say?"

The interviewer scowled at the researcher. "You should not make light of such things. Yes, that enchantment is not infallible, as has been shown, but it is reliable enough most of the time. I can assure you that what you have heard from me is true, though perhaps some of it was... simplified."

I nodded, then looked back to the researcher. "Then you are a Trust agent?"

This produced a gasp from the interviewer and a broad grin from the researcher. "As to that, you may safely assume that anyone foolish enough to answer yes is most certainly not. I wonder just what could have put such an idea in your head."

"You are one who needs to know where and how I encountered the Gan'vorhaa. You pretended not to know their name, but knew where they were. If the seriousness of the secret nature of the interviews here is true, you should not have been informed of any significant details until after you were brought here."

"You are a sharp one, aren't you? Perhaps your friend is right about you being cut out for the Library. But you shouldn't assume too much. After all, you did just give an interview to the Korranberg Chronicle yesterday. Your origins might be mysterious, but you do freely admit to being from the Seawall Mountains. It's not as though information like that doesn't get around."

I frowned at this. Something still seemed slightly off about this explanation, but I couldn't place it. I was shortly interrupted as the interviewer spoke up. "Could we please stop playing 'guess the Trust agent' and get back to the matter at hand?"

"I apologize. Yes, the Gan'vorhaa claimed territory in the mountains."

"That is somewhat unusual. It is normally Marguul clans who inhabit that region. Tell me what you can about their territory and what you observed them doing."

I spent several hours going over as much detail as I could recall of my time with the Gan'vorhaa, slipping back and forth between Common and Goblin depending on which language proved easier for particular sentiments. They were most interested in the work that had been assigned to the slaves. While I did not know much about the planning that went into those efforts, it was obvious that the primary goal of the mining efforts was the creation of weapons. What those weapons were intended for I had no idea, but it was clearly concerning to my questioners. Also of concern was the fact that there were gnomes among the Gan'vorhaa slaves, though I had had little contact with them and was not able to provide much detail. When it came to discussing the treatment of slaves, I found myself increasingly speaking in Goblin and letting Lynara translate, as the researcher seemed to have a knack for rephrasing things in a way that didn't make the other gnome look ill.

Another major concern was attempting to place the location. I was asked to describe in exhautive detail the appearance of the area surrounding the caverns, and every detail I could recall of the terrain I crossed both in the forced march to those caverns and my panicked flight away from them. By the time I was near the end of that flight, my memories were too hazy to be of much use, but they pressed me for anything I could recall, especially about the place where I came to the road. In the end I could only disappoint them; I had barely been conscious by that time, and everything seemed a blur of pain, fear and exhaustion. Eventually Lynara departed, and the interviewer waited several minutes for me to regain my composure before speaking again.

"I suspect that what you've told us will be of help, though only time will tell. I'd like to thank you on behalf of Zilargo for your efforts today, as I can see it's been difficult for you. There is still one more matter we need to discuss before we can conclude things here, however."

I simply looked at her as calmly as I could manage and waited for her to elaborate.

"I'm certain you are aware that one of our most important precepts in Zil society is the importance of dialogue and discussion over force of violence. 'Five words can defeat a thousand swords' is not just a saying but a guiding principle. We recognize that it is not always possible to resolve conflict without violence, but we are committed to keeping our cities and our nation free from the threat of violence.

"From all I have heard, I think you have a great deal of legitimate grievance with this Gan'vorhaa clan, and maybe even some who might have helped put them in the position to carry out their activities. Certainly the state of Darguun has a great many things to answer for, and not just in cases like yours. But as unlikely as it might seem right now, it is not impossible that we may some day have peace with Darguun. We might one day have Darguul diplomats or merchants walking our streets, abiding by these same standards. Can you live with that? Could you walk past someone who you feel has your tribe's blood on their hands and leave them be?"

I stared at my interviewer, stunned. Just yesterday I had been reminded of the fantasies I harbored in my youth, of a hatred I had learned to hide for my own safety, pretending it had been broken by fear. Now I was being challenged on whether I could resist the temptation of being handed an opportunity, and I realized what I was really being asked, the true and terrible price of the safety I sought. A price... that I had already paid. A part of who I was — who I used to be? — raged futilely within me as the realization of the commitment I had already made collapsed the passage to what I knew my tribe would have demanded of me.

"I knew long ago my fantasies of revenge were a juvenile's indulgence. I think they may rest within me all my life. Contemplating them is sometimes a comfort, but less so now. I owe my life to one who would be saddened to see me take life from others. I will not hurt her to satisfy a debt I once imagined I owed to those long dead. ...perhaps I am no longer truly a kobold. I have no place with my kind. It will not be my role to avenge them."

The interviewer seemed a bit stunned by my response, but eventually offered a sad smile. "I can't presume to say what it means to be a kobold, but I can say that you are a remarkable individual.... Welcome to Zilargo. If you'll come back upstairs, I'll get the remaining paperwork started."

As I returned upstairs, I saw Illyvalen pacing nervously around the waiting area. Many of the gnomes who had been present earlier were now gone, and the light from the windows had diminished with the coming of evening. As she saw me returning to the waiting area, Illyvalen looked first relieved, then concerned. "Are you all right? You look exhausted. What happened in there? You were gone so long I was afraid something had happened to you!"

"I am exhausted, but I have not been harmed. They needed a considerable amount of information. I believe they are satisfied now."

We were shortly informed by the receptionist that while my residency request had been approved, due to the late hour we would have to return at a later date to have identification papers drawn up and notarized. I was more relieved that today's ordeal was over than disappointed at the prospect of delay. Illyvalen seemed torn between excitement and concern, and I could tell that not asking questions was a strain on her as we made our way back to her residence.

Illyvalen's room was indeed a bit less cramped with the rearrangements that had been made in my absence. As I collapsed onto the cot, Illyvalen sat on the edge of her bed and looked at me in concern. "Are you okay? I know it's hard for you to talk about things.... I had no idea they would be at you for hours or I'd have warned you...."

"It was not all about my request. Some of my... knowledge about the mountains was of... interest to the Trust."

Illyvalen's eyes widened at this. "Really?! How so? How could you tell? What sort of... sorry. You don't need that right now. It's just hard not to ask."

We remained in silence for a while, and I wrestled with whether to tell her more. I knew it was hard for her, having this divide between our knowledge and understanding. I was sure that more than anyone else I could trust her. And yet, I knew also that knowing the truth of what I'd been through would hurt her. I didn't want to share that pain. This was my burden, one I hoped someone like her should never have to carry. There was still more I could say... but I did not feel ready. The debt I owed her felt enormous, especially now that I realized that my own acceptance of the consequences of that debt had, in the end, won for me the protection of Zilargo. The person I had been when I first came here would have eventually had to move on, seeking means to her revenge in some other place. I would remain because Illyvalen's kindness had changed me into someone who could accept this place, and into someone whom this place could accept. That thought brought equal parts relief and shame, and I quickly gave up any hope of articulating my conflicted sentiments.