You ask the girl why the Paladin was so interested in her there and then

"Not staying here long," you murmur, your breath steaming, your words a river surging toward this girl. "He doesn't seem the kind to give up, not once he's sure he's got a purpose. He'll burn a world to save it. How'd he discover you?"

Staring, her eyes so wide and nearly glowing, she tilts her face, which is really quite lovely in the arrangement of its parts, you can just see, even in this dark place in the trees.

"What've you done to bring that...dangerous paladin after you? — And me?"

You are aware you are backing from her, step after step, while she steps toward you. The tree, rough and sudden as a club between your shoulder blades, blocks your escape, if you might at some moment need to. She tips her mouth very close to yours.

This village girl. The girl from your dream.

"Who are you, Girl?"

Her lips move Who are you, Girl.

Dumb as a golem and infuriating — when you know it, though cannot say how, that this she of your dreams must have all the answers. She is why you have chanced the dangerous, regressive North. Forgetting yourself, you take her shoulders in both hands.

"Why've you brought me here? — Tell me!"

Through her village girl thin blouse, her yielding shoulder warms your hand. Your left hand. You opted only for the speed augment for your right, your shooting hand. She writhes in your grip. A grimace twists her face. Sensing you are hurting her, you release her.

"No point, at all, you asking her name...You. No name, you see. Not yet. Perhaps you'll name her. Perhaps that's your point...You."

Dangling by its limbs from the limbs of a tree, the wheezing speaker, grey, though distinct in the shadows, is...a monkey. That is, it is a very well made copy of a monkey. Approximately the dimensions of a human child, but for the grotesquely long, useful limbs. The face white, and a mockery of a wildman's in muttonchops. The thing as out of place in the medieval north as you.

You challenge it — "Then You have answers, Monkey."

"I have matched some pieces of a puzzle, quite true. But, answers? Perhaps...but one for you...archer. Fleshers against plate steel? This monkey hardly could believe its eyes! Terrific lucky shot, back there, still. Must've stung him like a wasp! But. Perhaps you shouldn't count on luck, Archer. They'll burn you if they catch you, you do see, yes? Oh, yesss, and they'll pray for your immortal soul while you wail."

Tugging itself along, hand over hand, branch to branch, the monkey swings closer. Its lack of genitalia apparent. Hearing, then, you comprehend. Buzzings, whirrings, tickings, and you behold the entire monkey assembly working in time with the music, like a marvelous toy.

Evidently likewise hearing, she turns. Something flickers over her eyes and the twitching corners of her mouth that might pass for joy in the smoky towns. She reaches. The monkey settles in her embrace, in turn wrapping its long arms around her.

Plainly smirking, as only a monkey can, or a human, and setting a monkey's hand on the girl, where a living girl's heart should beat, it adds, "But worse than them catching you — inconceivably worse — is them catching this one. You, Archer, sense this, even though you don't know how you know it. You cannot flee, though you want to. Now that you have found her, you cannot lose her."

The girl's eyes dart about. Clearly she hears it, too, the CRACK CRACK CRACK behind you in the forest darkness — that determined paladin disturbing the trees — and close.

The monkey that moment puts a hand in its chest. Inside the ribs, where its heart should beat. The hand turns and turns, and turns again, a winding key, unseen, though evident from the clickings.

"Only made that one angry, stinging him as you did, Archer. What's your plan? Quick now. I'm rested. She's rested."

Once more the girl is staring at you, her eyes gleaming, strange. There is something more, now, faintly twitching at the corners of her mouth.

"Save her, Archer, and you save yourself."

The End

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