Man, I do not even know what happened here. This was initially just going to be a meta little piece about how rice and clams have a 99.99% probability of production in the eleth mixer, the state of the request boards in Fendel, and how Asbel, Cheria, and Hubert are all kind of out of their depth in Fendelian weather. Besides, I have a thing for inflicting weird injuries on characters - I've done septisemic plague and flail chest, before, so why not frostbite?

Then I learned that sticking Asbel and Hubert in a room alone together without anyone else to hear results in an almighty mess. And suddenly this fic is double what I intended it to be.

All the same, mutation aside, progression of events aside, I hope you enjoy this twisted up, depressing little bit of brotherly love.

The sound of Pascal's snoring from the next room was causing the decorative crockery on the walls to actually shake. As a result, Hubert had no idea why Asbel thought he was being remotely stealthy in his attempt to sneak out of their room.

Hubert let him go, though, not even opening his eyes as he heard the door open and shut. It was, if not actually warm in the room, than at least not freezing, and with the addition of some heavy blankets he was quite comfortable. If only Pascal would stop snoring, he thought he might actually sleep well.

But, Pascal did not stop snoring. Even when she did, it proved to be only the mumbling calm before the next roar. Eventually, when Hubert's internal clock told him that some time had passed, and Asbel had not returned to the room, he gave up on sleep for the time being. The nagging curiosity, coupled with the noise, provided a distraction that even the warmth of his blankets couldn't dispel.

Even so, Hubert took one of them to wrap around his shoulders, before pulling on his boots. They'd be setting off for the pass tomorrow, and he had no illusions that things would be any better there. Best to enjoy being warm while he could. He'd thought Strahtan nights could be beastly cold, but they had nothing on Fendel days.

So prepared, Hubert eased the door open and slipped out into the hallway. He was just as careful in closing it behind him. Just because Pascal had no consideration for the others didn't mean he should forget his manners, and just because Asbel was an idiot didn't mean he shouldn't respect the others for at least trying to sleep.

Hubert headed for the stairs that led down into the common area. At the top of them, he heard the front door open, and tensed in readiness. He'd left his dualblades in his room – a stupid mistake – but he felt confident that he could dash back and get them before any Fendelian troops could notice him here.

Fortunately, it was only Asbel walking through the front door again, carrying a…bucket? A bucket with something in it, by the looks of things. Curious, Hubert eased down the stairs another few steps to get a better look.

In doing so, he saw that this was not Asbel's only bucket. He'd somehow found a large basin, and set it before the fire. As Hubert watched, he saw Asbel, with a grunt of effort, overturn the bucket over the basin With a faint "hiss", its contents poured out. By the light, Hubert was just able to make out that it was…

"Rice?" he murmured to himself.

Not just rice – other things fell out of the bucket with a rattle and clatter. One, judging by its glow, Hubert could recognize as Asbel's eleth mixer. The rest were just small, round, dark shapes. Then Hubert flashed back to earlier in the day, to a cat that had begged them for food, and what Asbel had gone back to feed it.


These Asbel scooped up, and took to another bucket, set by the door and that Hubert could see from this angle was filled with snow.

This was all just too much, and too strange. He'd never go back to sleep without answers now.


"Gah!" Asbel yelped, whirling around and going for his sword with what Hubert deemed acceptable speed. He relaxed immediately, however, when he recognized that it was Hubert standing there. "Oh, H-Hubert. You s-scared m-me."

"So I saw." Hubert waited until he'd gone down the rest of the steps, before adding: "If you're going to go wandering around at night, you should be prepared for things to leap out at you. You're lucky it was only me."

"Yeah." Asbel's breath was frosting in the air. And, as Hubert drew nearer, he saw that his brother was visibly shivering.

"How long have you been wandering around?" Hubert asked, not even bothering to disguise the sharpness of his tone.

Asbel shrugged. Or at least, Hubert thought he did. It was hard to tell. "I d-don't know." He brought both hands to his mouth and huffed on them. "It only w-works when you m-move. S-So I've just been, um…you know. W-Walking."

"What only works when you move?"

"The m-mixer."

"Your eleth mixer?" Frowning, Hubert crossed over to the basin of rice where it had been left, and carefully picked up the strange device. Although he'd easily been able to see it glowing in the shadows, up close it was easy to see that its light was noticeably diminished from its full power. Asbel had clearly been walking long enough to drain it of half its eleth, maybe more.

Soldiers in the Strahtan army were not issued mixers, but he'd always been curious about them, and how they worked. The fact that Asbel both had one and had apparently grown quite adept with it had been just another seed in the vast garden of jealousy.


All the same, when Asbel shuffled over and reached out to take it, Hubert didn't stop him. He did, however, get a good look at Asbel's hand. And then Hubert couldn't stop himself from crying out in some alarm. "Asbel!"

"W-What?" Asbel looked back at Hubert, wide eyed and confused, the absolute, utter moron that he was, and was too surprised that he didn't even try to pull his hand away, or protest when Hubert took hold of the other and brought them both up close to his face to inspect. He did, however, wince at his brother's touch.

That was not a good sign at all.

A closer inspection did absolutely nothing to improve matters, but they did make Hubert certain, and they did make him revise one opinion. Asbel was not just an absolute, utter moron, he'd clearly let his brain dribble out his ears back at the Knight Academy.

"Hubert, wh-what's wr-wrong?" Asbel asked, discomfort and, yes, worry evident in his voice, probably at the look on Hubert's face. Good. He should be worried. This was a worrisome development indeed.

The joints were swollen. The skin was waxy and hard. His hands were the only part of him, as far as Hubert could tell, that wasn't shivering with cold. This could be very bad indeed.

"Frostbite," Hubert snapped. "What could possess you to…oh, come here!"

Keeping a hold of Asbel's hands, Hubert led him a few steps away from the stove, enough that the heat wasn't all pervading without taking Asbel out of its way entirely. "Can you still feel the heat?"

Asbel nodded. Hubert followed up the question with a curt, "Then sit!"

Asbel sat on the floor, looking stunned and lost and scared. "Hubert, wh-what's happened?" he asked again, more insistently. "Wh-What's f-frostbite?"

"Damage to skin, tissue, and nerves." Hubert sat down next to him. "Caused by excessive, reckless, and unprotected exposure to cold temperatures. Like wandering around in the dark without so much as a pair of gloves."

Nothing for it. He tugged off the blanket from around his shoulders, and draped it over Asbel's front. "Do not move your hands. Keep them under there."

Asbel nodded, staring at Hubert but not saying anything this time. It seemed that even he could appreciate the severity of "damage to skin, tissue, and nerves."

Hubert scrambled back to his feet and hurried back towards the recently emptied bucket. Then, out the door, into the night, where he started the shoveling the snow packed around the entrance into it. The cold was biting, making him wince as it stung his skin and chilled his own hands. How had Asbel lasted this long? Even before he lost feeling in his fingers, carrying a metal bucket handle without gloves in this weather should have made his mad mission – whatever it was – damn near unbearable.

He'd ask him later. Right now, satisfied, Hubert darted back inside. The bucket was set before Asbel, who was looking at Hubert like he'd lost his mind. Hubert, for his part, went straight to the stove. The innkeeper had left a poker nearby. Hubert would have thought she'd be too worried about people stealing the fire cryas burning within, but perhaps the people of this little hamlet respected a burning stove, no matter whose it was.

Hubert, for his part, would empty it without hesitation if that was what it took, but fortunately he knew better, and knew that would only make things worse. No, instead, he just flipped the door open, grabbed one of the smallest still burning pieces he could see with a pair of tongs, kicked the door shut, and then took the fire cryas back to the bucket of snow to drop inside.

Immediately, with a "hiss" and a curl of steam, the snow began to melt. Hubert let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.

"We'll warm up your hands in this," he said, sitting down across from Asbel, the bucket between them. "Then splint them, to prevent any more damage. All right?"

"S-Sounds good to me." Asbel offered Hubert a bright and probably-supposed-to-be-reassuring smile. Hubert thought he saw Asbel shivering a little less, but it was hard to tell under the blanket. "But, um, m-maybe we should get Cheria? I m-mean, she could probably fix me up, right?"

Hubert shook his head. "It's doubtful," he said grimly, although he wished so much that it wasn't. "While I would never downplay the use of Cheria's powers, I would imagine that, like yourself, she probably hasn't come across or experienced frostbite before. Lhant and Barona tend to be too temperate for winters that severe."

He could have been wrong, of course. He could be doing this all wrong and completely ruin Asbel's hands forever. It wasn't as though Hubert had ever had any experience with frostbite either, not properly, not like this. He'd been trained to recognize its symptoms, yes, trained to treat them, but that had all been theory. Even Strahtan nights didn't get cold enough to necessitate putting them into practice.

It had all been done for the sake of a hypothetical, maybe-someday invasion of Fendel, not a mad dash through it with his idiot brother and his ragtag friends in an effort to beat a mad king to a valkines that no one knew how to find.

He probably should go and wake Cheria, he knew. But, Hubert didn't. He told himself that he was only waiting until the snow melted, so he could check that the makeshift hand bath wasn't too hot.

"Well, then hey," Asbel said, his voice impossibly calm for the situation he'd found himself in. He stared across the bucket towards Hubert with an expression that Hubert couldn't place, but which made his stomach hurt and his throat lock up to try. "I guess it's a good thing I've got you here, right? To take care of me?"

Hubert looked away, down into the bucket where the last few flakes of snow were still floating. "You should thank Pascal. If she hadn't been snoring so loud, I probably would have just gone back to sleep and left you to your insanity."

"Then thank you, Pascal. And…thanks, Hubert."

Hubert opened his mouth to snap something at Asbel, and then found that the lump in his throat had grown too great to speak around. Instead, gritting his teeth at the unbearable stupidity and, and naivety of his brother, he checked the water temperature, and said nothing until it was ready.

"Let me see your hands," he said, when it was, in a voice far softer than he would have liked. Then, realizing that Asbel would have to move his hands to get them out from under the blanket, Hubert reached over the bucket to help him. He noted that Asbel's fingers were frozen in a curled sort of position, probably thanks to holding the bucket for so long.

He thought wildly about what might happen if he had gotten this wrong, or if he'd found Asbel too late to help. He wondered about his brother's hands being frozen forever like this or worse, imagined them gone

…the trembling of his own hands as he held Asbel's was pitifully obvious, with Asbel's frozen still. And as he stared at their joined hands, his own reddened from cold, Asbel's mottled and pale, he felt Asbel looking at him with concern of his own.


Hubert didn't reply. Instead, he took a deep breath, let it out, mentally kicked himself for such thinking, and then carefully, gently lowered Asbel's hands into the warm water.

Asbel sucked in a sharp breath as soon as his frostbitten skin touched the surface. Good, that was good, it meant some feeling had returned. And then, after a second, his brother let out a sigh. "Oh, man…"

"How does that feel?"

"Amazing," Asbel replied, his tone blissful.

"Is it too hot?"

"Nope. Just right. And absolutely wonderful…"

He'd have to take Asbel's word for it, which was never a good idea in Hubert's book. The temperature felt just fine to him, but apart from being reddened from the cold, his own hands weren't half as damaged as Asbel's were.

"Leave them there until I tell you otherwise. And do not move." Hubert got to his feet, dusting himself off, and looked pensively towards the stairs up. "I'm going to go and get Cheria now."

Asbel smiled, and nodded. "You've got it. Still as a statue."

A thought struck Hubert as he started up the steps, one that made him smile darkly to himself. It seemed, then, that he had finally succeeded in one area where his father had always failed.

He'd gotten Asbel to do as he was told and sit still.

Cheria was awake and opening the door with commendable speed at his knock. Hubert told her what had happened, as succinctly as he could. Cheria turned out to have had at least enough experience with frostbite to be sufficiently alarmed, but in turn she was also able to reassure Hubert that he'd done right so far.

It was a weight off Hubert's mind to hear that, although pride prevented him from admitting how scared he'd been. Cheria passed along some bandages from her pack, told him to keep an eye on Asbel for a few more hours, and then she would step in to speed up the recovery process if he was actually recovering by then.

"Just try to keep him still until then," she finished with a soft smile. "Maybe with a nice talk."

"I wouldn't think that Asbel and I have ever had enough to keep us talking for that long," Hubert huffed. It was a complete lie, but…he tried not to think about those days as much as he could.

"I think Asbel might surprise you." Cheria seemed to see right through his lie, in that frustrating way of hers'. With her assurance that she'd be down to check on them in a little while, Hubert was more than happy to go back downstairs to get away from her piercing gaze.

Asbel was actually still where he'd been left, hands still immersed in the warm water. "What'd she say?" he asked, as Hubert knelt down across from him again.

"Just to keep going as I was." Carefully, Hubert lifted one of Asbel's hands out of the water and ran a finger lightly over the back. It might have just been the water, but he fancied that the skin was a bit softer. "She'll be down in a little while," he added, replacing it back in the bath. "With any luck, you might be able to lift a sword tomorrow."

"Is it really that bad?"

"Yes." Hubert cast a glance around the room, and Asbel's additions to it. "What in the world possessed you to go wandering around in the snow for…rice and clams?"

"Not just that," Asbel smiled proudly, as though he had any reason to be proud of himself. "I managed to make some fur, too. Not a lot, but…maybe it will help."

"Help who? Because it's done you precious little good as it is. Honestly, Asbel, we've never lacked for food so far. You might have at least used the fur to protect your hands."

"It was never about me, Hubert. Or any of us."

"Then who…"

And then Hubert put two and two together. He remembered where they were, and why, and just who he was talking to. Asbel brightened up slightly as his apparent understanding, and hurried on with an explanation. "The mixer is just better at making some things than others. Especially if you practice at it. And you can make so many different things with rice, and Sophie likes to feed clams to stray cats. It's harder with the fur, it doesn't work as well for something that's not quite organic. But I've used it so much since I got it, and food really doesn't take up any eleth at all to make, so I thought…"

"You thought to singlehandedly solve the food shortage of the entire town before we were on our way."

Harsh words, perhaps, and Asbel visibly wilted as Hubert said them. But Hubert thought they needed to be said. His brother was still so very naïve, and theirs' was not a world that was kind to naiveté. Naiveté got you hurt. It had gotten Asbel hurt, this very night, even if nothing had actually attacked him besides the elements.

So Hubert pressed his advantage.

"There are problems in this country that go above and beyond food shortages. For one thing, there are the causes of those food shortages. Government policy. A lack of cryas. Favoring the military over the citizenry."

"So you think I shouldn't have done anything?" Asbel countered, his voice sharper now.

"You did do something. You gave those children five strahteme horns. By my calculations, that will be enough to heat this entire inn for a couple of days yet."

"Heat they're wasting on us!"

"In gratitude that you proceeded to throw back in the innkeeper's face by getting into your present state."

Asbel looked actually angry now, to the point that Hubert wondered if he might have struck too low. But, no, he pushed the thought aside. He was right – Asbel needed to see that.

"Do you want to know what was posted on the request board in this place, Hubert?" Asbel growled. "It wasn't someone asking for a new accessory to go with their dress, or someone who was out of cheese to snack on! It was someone asking for some rice to get their brother through the week! Someone with a sick grandmother who can't sleep from all this cold! A kid who wants a spoon to dig cryas out of the ground!" Expression fierce, he nodded towards the eleth mixer and, almost on cue, a tumble of rice grains started to fall from the lip of the mixer and into the basin where it had been left. "All that rice, all those clams, and I still have so much eleth left. These people have nothing. Am I supposed to just not help them? When I can fill a basin full of rice and a bucket full of fish that they could eat after we're gone?"

"And then what? They eat the rice and they eat the fish and then what happens, Asbel?"

Asbel's jaw clenched, but he didn't answer at first. Hubert took that as his cue to hurry on : "Then they're right back where they were before, and this time, you won't be there to help with your charity. You might as well have not done anything at all."

"I don't believe you!" The water rippled in the bucket as Asbel's fists clenched. Reflexively, Hubert reached in to hold him still again, and was splashed with warm water when Asbel tugged his hands away. "Do you really think that?" his brother demanded. "Do you really think that helping people survive, even another few days, is pointless? Sure, maybe their lives will still be hard, after we leave, but at least they'll have been easier for a few days! At least that family's grandmother will be able to sleep at night, and at least those kids will go to sleep with a full stomach for once! Does that really mean nothing to you?!"

"Asbel, calm down! Your hands haven't recovered yet – we need to keep them submerged!" The alarm in Hubert's voice betrayed him – even Asbel heard it, there and then, and he seized on it.

"Why should I? By your logic, I shouldn't even bother! I'll probably just get frostbite all over again while we're here, so everything that you did to help me will have been pointless! Isn't that right, Hubert?!"

Before Hubert could so much as move, Asbel had surged to his feet and given the bucket an almighty kick, spraying warm water all over Hubert and all over the floor, sending the bucket clattering away under a table. The move left Hubert sputtering and briefly blinded – he ripped off his glasses and rubbed fiercely at his eyes. "Asbel, you're being ridiculous! You have a choice in whether or not to ruin your hands! They don't have a choice about starving. To compare the two is pointless!"

"That's right! I have a choice! We have a choice! And we have the resources to help these people while we're here! I don't care what you say, Hubert – as soon as I can hold that bucket again, I'm going right back out there and…"

Hubert had heard enough. With a growl, he lunged. Asbel was surprised enough that the tackle connected, and worked, and he found himself born to the ground with Hubrert sitting on him. In a flash, Hubert had grabbed the blanket, tossed it over Asbel's upper body, and pinned it there with his hands.

"Stay down," he ordered, all of his many twisted up emotions leaking traitorously into his voice. "And listen."

Fortunately, that proved enough that Asbel, after a few seconds of surprised thrashing, obeyed and went still under the blanket. Hubert had to forcibly remind himself not to apply so much pressure that his brother was smothered – in his current, reckless, angry state, he didn't trust himself at all.

But he trusted Asbel even less.

"You grew up in a land of plenty. A benevolent government, abundant cryas, and a mild environment. A place where flowers could grow wild on a hill. Thanks to the actions of your father, I did not. I grew up in a land that only existed thanks to a valkines. Yes, I was fortunate – I lived in the capital, with a wealthy family." 'Fortunate'…he'd told himself that, over and over again, but somehow it had never really sunk in. "But there isn't one citizen of Strahta who hasn't wondered what would happen if the water stopped flowing."

His hands reflexively bunched up in the blankets, until his knuckles were white in the dark and his muscles ached. And now the water would stop – the valkines that had let him even survive these last seven years was dead, just as they had all always secretly, quietly feared it would. It was a thought he'd tried to keep at bay for days now, but with a shiver of fear, it stabbed him in the heart like a knife.

"And Strahta is still a paradise compared to Fendel. You think I don't know that, Asbel? This is a kingdom on a knife's edge. By rights, it should have collapsed into ruin years ago. Invading Lhant was only a matter of time – it isn't even as though they have any other nearby neighbors. You realized that, I know."

He thought he saw Asbel nod.

"Do you think that your father never realized this? That no one in Lhant knew what its neighbors were going through? War didn't have to happen – they might have chosen to share their good fortune freely. Of course, it wouldn't have solved all of Fendel's problems. But it would have been something. It would have let a few more children sleep in a warm bed…or a few less soldiers die of thirst."


He heard pity in Asbel's voice, muffled as it was. It was too much – Hubert got up off of his brother, and turned away in what he realized was a probably vain attempt to get himself under control.

He didn't hear Asbel make a move, at least. So, that was something. If he could get the idea of taking care of himself through Asbel's thick skull, maybe this night wouldn't be a complete loss.

So even Hubert didn't entirely realize why he said what he said next.

"If I were born to a different family…" Hubert continued on, all the words and half formed unspoken thoughts tumbling out of him, now. "…I probably would have come to Lhant as a conqueror, rather than a savior. Unfair to them, perhaps, but the President wouldn't have ordered the move without serious consideration…and we needed the cryas. I knew that from the beginning. If I hadn't had any personal attachment to the place, or the people there…I would have sent half the town to the mines within a week." He laughed quietly, bitterly, his breath crystallizing in the air. The sight made him realize that he was actually getting cold, without the blanket he'd brought downstairs.

Thinking that Asbel wouldn't see, Hubert wrapped his arms around himself and allowed himself a shiver. "…perhaps I should have done so anyway."

For Strahta, yes, he should have. In exchange for keeping them safe from Fendel, Hubert knew that they could probably have worked out some sort of arrangement. Goods for services – it wasn't as if it would be an unfamiliar idea. He'd had the men to back up any call he made, and Lhant wouldn't have been able to do very much to oppose him.

But, he hadn't sent them to the mines. He hadn't left them to Fendel. He'd simply been…happy to be home, instead. And he hadn't had the courage to do anything to change that, or risk the looks of adoration and gratitude becoming suspicion and hate instead.

The tiny, nagging voice of conscious reminded him again that he'd subjected Asbel to the very same fate that he had once suffered, and had so feared. The twin voices of bitterness and regret shouted it down with a familiar litany. Asbel had gotten the life that Hubert had wanted, and he'd thrown it away. Why shouldn't Hubert, as his younger brother, get his discarded hand-me-downs? And why shouldn't he fight to keep them when he had them?

Hubert flinched away, tensing, when he felt something settling onto him. But it was only the blanket, coming to rest around his shoulders. It was only Asbel, standing just behind him, smiling a smile like broken glass, his blue eyes that were the only trait they shared shining with the beginnings of tears.

"…I'm sorry, Hubert," he said, his voice helpless and breaking on the sound of his brother's name.

The look on his face…the look of a man reaching out, supplicating, and praying to be received…was too much. The pain it must be causing him to even hold anything right now, even a blanket, made Hubert's hands twinge in sympathy. And again, yet again, probably without even thinking, his idiot brother was doing without for someone else's sake.

Hubert had never really hated Asbel. Asbel had just been the most convenient target in the last few weeks, for the last seven years worth of hurt. But it had been a long time since he'd felt anything like love for him, either. He felt it then, though, and it felt like a hot spike in his throat, and the sensation was unfamiliar enough to be damn near overwhelming. It made his eyes sting traitorously behind his glasses, but it also left him with the feeling that this time, this time he could not look away.

Instead, he reached out, and took Asbel's frostbitten hands gently in his own. For a few seconds, he just focused on breathing on them. His breath was warmer than the chill air of Fendel, even now, even after so long down here in the drafty, chilly living room.

Asbel was quiet, but his gaze never left Hubert as his little brother tried to warm him up, tried to save the hands that had done so much good for the world in so many small ways. Hubert didn't stop until he felt Asbel's hands give a reflexive little twitch. Then, the spell broken, he let go, and took a step back, his gaze falling to the floor.

He thought he saw Asbel move to take a step forward in turn…but, he didn't. Hubert was both grateful and sad at that.

"Go to Cheria's room," Hubert said. He sounded exhausted, he felt exhausted, and there was no hiding that from Asbel anymore. "She'll bandage your hands. If you don't move them too much, we might be able to keep the muscle damage to a surface level. Then go back to sleep – we're leaving for the pass in the morning, no matter what."


Asbel turned away, and walked away, heading for the stairs. Hubert still didn't look up, but he heard his brother start up them…and then he heard him pause.

"I just…wanted to thank you, for helping me. And for talking to me. I still don't agree, with everything you've said…but I think now I kind of understand why you said it. And, Hubert, I…I'm glad we're together again. Even if it's only for a little while."

It was so cold that Hubert was amazed the tears didn't freeze on his cheeks. "Go to sleep," he ordered gruffly, using the last of his emotional reserves in an attempt not to betray the fact that he was crying. Just because Asbel was prepared to give so much away didn't mean that Hubert had to follow his example. Not anymore.

Asbel did leave, then – Hubert heard him reach the top of the landing, and turned away and start off down the hallway. He heard the distant knock, and the sound of a door opening. Only when he heard that door close again did he give in to his own weakness and settle down with a long, exhausted, miserable sigh at a chair by one of the tables.

"…I hope you recover," he said, into the silence.

He didn't know how much time had passed, just that after a while he heard footsteps again, coming downstairs. And then, having had some time to recover, Hubert surged to his feet with new reserves of indignant anger…

…but it was only Malik, standing on the stairs, looking just as surprised to see Hubert here as Hubert was to see him. "Hubert," he said, inclining his head. His voice was polite, but unmistakably wary. "Is something the matter?"

"No. Nothing at all." It was a relief to hear the sound of his own voice, and how it was still strong and in control in the face of people who weren't Asbel. Especially in the face of people who were Marik, and untrustworthy.

And yet…an idea that had been forming in the very back of Hubert's mind crystallized like ice, then, at the sight of the captain, and the memory of who he was to Asbel. He gave it a few second's thought, and a few second's doubt, before shoving that doubt aside. It had been a strange night – perhaps it was his due to indulge in some strangeness of his own.

"I am, however, glad I caught you," Hubert went on. He crossed the floor to the stove, and the basin of rice that was still standing in front of it. His goal, however, was the half charged eleth mixer, which he picked up and brought to Malik to inspect. "Perhaps you can help me with something."

"Something to do with Asbel's eleth mixer?" Malik asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically. Hubert, however, held firm – now that he'd started this mad idea, he damn well intended to see it through.

"Yes. I was wondering if you would teach me how to use it."

"I probably could. But, why the sudden interest?"

"Oh, it isn't sudden at all, I assure you. I've been curious as to how this device works for a long while, now. And I thought that if you could teach Asbel how to use it, you could probably teach anyone."

He thought he saw Malik smile. "You flatter me. But, in this case, flattery will get you everywhere. I'm not sure how much I could teach you in a few hours, though."

"Oh, we can certainly start small. In fact…I've heard it's quite easy to produce rice, for example. Why don't we begin there?"