Chax, relaxing in the hot spring, was surprised when Gnash entered and sat down opposite him. He was not sure how he knew the stranger was Gnash, but he was sure. No one else was nearby.
Gnash looked like a more handsome, muscular version of one of Chax's uncles. He smiled but kept his lips closed.
"I admit I am surprised by your appearance," said Chax.
Gnash shrugged. "I can explain."
Chax hesitated. "I am sure I cannot afford whatever your secret costs."
Gnash grinned, revealing just a little of his disconcerting teeth. "For the best secrets, their information changes you. Knowing the secret is the cost."
Gnash continued, "But this is not one of the best secrets. It does have a cost. I tell you freely. My appearance conforms to your expectations and experience with ruthlessness. To the fearful and timid, who see themselves as prey, I look like a devouring predator with too many maws and claws. To those trying to establish a secure home and legacy, while constrained by the lie that all selfishness is a vice, I look like an attractive tempter, or something internal wrapped around their heart with too many eyes and tentacles. But to you, I am an attractive yet temporary traveling companion—a stronger and older relative from whose shadow you one day will escape."
Chax shrugged again.
Gnash grinned again. "I know of your pain. You were a young boy spending the summer with your grandparents. The village they lived in was sacked by Ezward to Brigand King. They were taken to slave away in a despot's transmutery pits. Your older brother was slain by Ezward. He made you watch. Then he cut off your thumb and left you behind, the only survivor."
Chax's expression grew stormy as Gnash spoke. But he dared not interrupt.
Gnash continued, "You have promised yourself to avenge your brother. You have spent years studying swordsmanship and archery, despite your young age. You have worked long hours chopping wood, to afford lessons. You have stolen, to pay for more training. But you do not know where to find Ezward. You do not know where your parents went when, after receiving the report that you were both slain, they fled the home that had too many memories of you. But tonight I have an offer for you. I can temporarily make you forget your brother's voice. Every song he sang. Every prayer he said before sleeping. And his screams as Ezward took him from you. Not until you slay Ezward will you be able to remember his voice."
Chax closed his eyes. He was quiet for a long time. Then he said, "That cost is indeed a double-edged sword. Yes, I will pay it."
"Good," said Gnash. "My followers do not have nightmares. They cause them." And it was done.
"A second free gift," said Gnash. "Your parents are in Arlinac Town."
"Thank you," said Chax.
Gnash chuckled. "Do not thank me. Who do you think suggested to Ezward that fear of his name would spread faster if he left in every village one young survivor, missing a thumb?" Gnash wiggled one of his thumbs at Chax. "Find the others after visiting your parents."
Chax scowled. "You delight in double-edged swords."
Gnash nodded. "Yes. But Ezward's brigandry was not from me. His cruelty was his own. Your quest has just as much ruthlessness, and is far more praiseworthy. And if you trust no one, you will live to enjoy your revenge and escape my shadow."