Chapter TWELVE – Zan
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Under the cover of darkness, behind a stinking tannery that had closed its doors for the day, Zan transformed for the second time that evening. His body shrunk, foot by foot, the oversize loincloth slipping off his waist to dust the grime-coated street. Then he was standing on all fours, the fabric spread out around him like a blanket. He shivered and stretched, shaking the feeling into his furry black limbs and claws one at a time.

Changing into a cat was child's play. Zan was accustomed to the transformation and hardly felt it anymore. Several times a week, he sneaked in and out of Blackwater in the same diminutive feline form. The inability to speak could be unsettling, but it wasn't all bad. His teeth and claws did the talking well enough for most purposes, and people avoided black cats out of superstition. Old tales portrayed them as witches' familiars or demonic creatures of darkness. This close to the Coven, few were willing to take the chance the myths were true. 

Zan slunk back to the Gidaran's tent, keeping to the shadows. There were only two lampposts gleaming with dim light along the entire stretch of the wharf, and neither was close to the satyrs' tent. He could hear Sorar and Rika murmuring to each other in low voices as he neared. They were quieter than they'd been when he'd eavesdropped earlier, but not so much that he couldn't find a comfortable spot to listen. 

He lifted a back corner of the tent with one of his paws and let himself slide underneath into one of their private rooms. It was dark, but his night vision was excellent. If he'd done this earlier, he might have saved himself an hour's worth of trouble, but he hadn't known what to expect. He certainly couldn't have known that a spooky enigma would visit the Gidaran with just the type of story he was looking for. 

A tale the Blackwater witches and the Lightkeepers would fight over? It sounded like information he could leverage to help his sister. In fact, it sounded too good to be true, which meant it probably was. But the stranger had been powerful. Whatever he'd done to the Gidaran had frightened them out of their seats, which had to count for something. 

"Do you believe his tale?" Rika asked her brother. 

Zan couldn't see the duo from his perch, but he could tell by listening that they were close to one another, probably still sitting around the table Sorar had knocked across the floor. 

"No," Sorar answered flatly. "I might have been better inclined to listen if he hadn't opened with that amateur's line, Tale of a lifetime."

Rika chuckled. Zan's cat body vibrated with rage. How dare they call him an amateur! So what if he had never bartered with the Gidaran before, he knew what he was doing. He'd been out on these streets seeking answers and possibilities for years. He was no amateur.

"Imagine if it's true, though." There was a note of something like awe in the she-satyr's gravelly voice. "It would make more sense of Blackwater's rejuvenation than the storms. You have to admit he had a point."

Zan gloated, puffing his furred chest. "You should have listened, Rika," he would have whispered to himself if he'd been able. 

"It's nothing compared to the wraith's tale."

Zan waited with breath held, but Sorar declined to elaborate. It was his sister who eventually spoke again. 

"I'm not sure it was a wraith. Aren't they fairly stupid creatures?"

Zan agreed, and he knew enough wraiths to form an educated opinion on the matter.

"If it wasn't a wraith, it was something else from beyond, something old and long dead. You felt it leeching on your memories, too. I'm not sure it didn't steal years of our lives. I'd have turned it in to the guards if I thought they'd have offered us the least bit of help. But we were lucky to be given space for a tent."

"Do you believe what it said?" Rika sounded nervous. 

Zan leaned in, shivering in his dainty paws, his cat lips curled back. Finally. He was ready for this.

"Who knows," Sorar answered nonchalantly. 

Zan might have screamed, if he wasn't a cat. They'd told him they were certain the information was legitimate. 

"It could be why the ley lines are active, though. If the barrier separating the banished elves from this realm is failing, it may affect them. Just think, Sorar. What will the free Darkbane do if their brethren return? Do you think they'll revolt?"

"Even if they do, it will do them little good. They would have to overthrow the witches to gain back their magic. I wouldn't bet on them winning."

"But if they won, and things went back to the way they used to be before the war, that would be something." Rika sighed, a deep and throaty rumble that shook the ground under Zan's paws. But he hardly heard it. 

He was dashing into the wind, bolting for his treehouse, exalting in victory. 

"Yes, yes yes!" The sound escaped his transformed throat as a strangled meow.

He'd heard it twice now, the ley lines were active! The banished elves were coming back, and with them Zan might finally get the chance to save his sister. 

It was only a matter of time, now.

He couldn't wait to tell Ayer.