Long shadows cast westward by the rising sun, clawed across the grey-green grass outside the settlement, like skeletal fingers. Leif traced those shadows back to a barren tree, loads of old leaves scattered on the ground beneath. He gazed westward, more trees, many of them bare and many more still displaying a colorful pattern of gold, yellow, orange, pink and red, with occasional greens in between, conifers aside. “Further south, not more than three weeks journey, autumn never gets a hold of the land, temperatures are moderate, although the.climate is lush, it’s very damp.” an Albin woman had joined him. She had introduced herself as Whlana, and seemed rather dreamy when she spoke of the jungle south of the sweetwater sea. “I hear there is also a desert in the south.” he replied, speaking slowly as Whlana had explained she was not all too firm in his language, but had learned it from Lillian. “The river runs to it.” she gestured with boh hands to make herself understood. “Most of it vanishes in an inland delta, but some runs underground through the desert.” the way she wiggled her hands when she spoke of the river was more like someone would indicate a snake. “I have lived all my life on the pole. The sun rarely shines there, and it is almost always as cold as it is now.” he eyed her carefully, not to make her know he was looking. He liked the way her buttocks looked in the dark green trousers she wore. “I would very much like a journey down a river,” he pronounced the word for river slowly so she would hear it spoken correctly, “that brings me to a climate of perpetual warmth.” and dampness he almost said, but he wasn’t speaking with the alabaster woman, he couldn’t hint at sexual topics that openly with an Albin. “I hated it.” she shook her head, making her open hair wave in correspondence. He like the dark, almost purple hair she had, the eastern Albin looked a bit too much like his own people. Blonde and pale. Whilst the western Albin blended better into the forest. His imagination trailed off, wondering how she looked like naked, and if her pubic region also had that purple shimmer. “Many comrades and friends were prayed on by lions there, I’d rather go to an ice desert than back to that damp hot mound of death.” I’m thinking of damp hot.mound, and it has nohing to do qih death. “Death will soon be everywhere, won’t it?” she turned to him. “Perhaps. Perhaps not, it all depends on what we do.” the mission that the alabaster woman had given him came back to his mind, his arousal melted away like snow in the warm spring sun. “Most important is that we act wisely.” he smiled, before inviting Whlana for a cup of tea to the settlement. There was nothing he could do at the moment, oher than groom the Albin before him. Lean features made up the face of the man before Eric, his ashen complexion and the reflection of light from his perfectly smooth skin defied any judgement of character. It was an ambassador to the fungal empire, he claimed to have no name any longer, the almost pitch black man next to him however was called Augustus, a representative of the Fungal republic, he didn’t like his imperial counterpart, despised all that were part of the fungal hive mind. Yet the two had come.together with a common cause. “We fungals,” began Augustus, nervously inching from one foot to the other, “were created by thw great fungus. At first out of devoured bodies the great fungus found, but later recreated in his liking.” he glanced to his counterpart, who still stood there with unchanged expression. “I was created by those which seek to destroy all life other than their own.” the imperial ambassador finally said. “And I, as well as my defiant children,” he pointed to Augustus, “can sense agents of our creators.” Both exchanged a quick glance. Neither Eric nor Fathala could.make any sense of what the two were saying. Similarly lost were Oshun and Farlyn, who stood close by, only Lillian seemed to grasp the implication in their words. “It’s Leif, isn’t it?” she paced towards the two. “It is.” said the imperial ambassador, he and a woman of similar age were he only two imperial representatives on Naga’na. None of the other races trusted the great fungus well enough to allow any more feet on the ground.