Who the hell are you? (Part 1)
 

It was an especially good day, not a cloud in the sky. The sun bore down harshly, all shadows were driven into their nooks. It was early noon. Despite the sun, the air was pleasant on account of the cool breeze rolling from the mountains.

The town, Nal'esu, was anchored into a steep hill that on one side sloped into the edge of a shallow valley. Across from the town, on the other end of the valley, a narrow band of trees obscured a small clearing with a handful of scattered hamlets. Beyond the the clearing, an increasingly dense forest, beyond that, the treacherous mountains. The valley was carpeted in a rolling meadow, of which was a veritable cornucopia of all things botanical. From the meadow grew several species of aromatic flowers, prized for their use in perfumes as well as magical properties. The flowers grew exclusively in the valley of Nal'esu, therefore a significant portion of the local economy revolved around them. A stone brick road cut through the bucolic meadow and snaked its way up to the gates, where a guard idled at his post. The town was already elevated on a hill above the bounds of the valley, affording the guard a total view of any and all developments in valley below.

In the distance Raalif spied movement from the copse of which the road emerged. He couldn't quite make out the details yet but there were five figures in total accompanied by a single cart drawn by two horses. He watched the five trundle along the stone toward the city. As the group advanced, more details came into few.

At the front of the party, a wood elf. Clothed in a goat pelt cloak with goat leather studded shoulder pads and a buttressed collar. Though a wood elf (it's all in the nose) she was not from the hamlets; her paler skin and pelts were a dead giveaway that she was from deeper into the woods but she was not as rough as Raalif expected, beautiful actually (if you were into that).

The other four individuals were of greater curiosity than a neat pale-wood. They were dressed identically, ornately, and if their stocky appearance was any indication— excessively. A deep red coat, buttoned fully, hung from shoulder to mid-thigh; a thick black stripe ran vertically up the back, terminating at a tall, black collar. Emerging from under the collar, a red hood covered all but the face. Over the hood, a silvery circlet with a protruding visor rested over the brow, casting a shadow over their visage. Supported from the sides of the circlet hung a red veil, obscuring all but the eyes. Over the base of the collar, a hinged metallic neckband clasped together, raised on the rear to cover the back of the neck. From the neckband a red pauldron, embroidered with a golden triangle, draped to the waist. Billowing black trousers emerged from under the coat terminating at the ankles. Feet were covered in sturdy, brown, leather boots with a matte grey plate contouring over each arch. Hands were gloved in the same mysterious leather. Judging by the strides of the four, they all wore thin plate under their garb. Clearly some sort of foreigners, but of no known variety. Wait. They are at least a head and a half shorter than the pale-wood. What the hell kind of mer are they?

Raalif's pondering was interrupted by the pale-wood and the clap of hooves. "Hello! We have come far. Would you mind letting us in?" she spoke in accented mid-standard.

Shaking himself into attention he quickly and with unintended hostility shot "Manner of visit?"

The wood elf recoiled at the tone and then replied tersely "Traders and envoy."

"Envoy from where? You don't look like one of them" Raalif genuinely asked, his accidental abrasiveness wouldn't get him the answer he wanted however.

"Beyond the mountains, I am the translator, they know little standard" She replied gruffly.

Directing his gaze at the foreign mer he plainly spoke "Translate" pointing at the pale-wood. One of the four nodded in his direction. Raalif nodded back, trying to make eye contact with the understanding individual but could not due to the angle of their visor.

"Go ahead" Raalif defeatedly responded. Anyone that declared themselves (and looked like) an envoy was to be given safe passage by the Imperial guard. He couldn't just threaten the foreigners for information. He resolved to pass a tip along to Gavlan, the local commander (and unknown to Raalif, local spymaster), he would likely learn something from the old veteran to sate his curiosity.

~~~~~~

The duties of an informant were highly romanticized, no late night rendezvous, no covert infiltration, and no trysts with busty maidens. In fact, most of Alved's intelligence routine consisted of eavesdropping in taverns, fraternizing with innkeepers, and keeping an ear to the proverbial ground. On the surface and mostly under, Alved was the welcoming and talented but lackadaisical owner of a shop specializing in extracts and other products produced from the local fauna. His skill with alchemy made up for the lost business when he was away from his shop in the afternoon, milling about town.

Alved was polishing the counter and refilling the condenser with a watery violet mixture as he prepared to temporarily close the shop for his afternoon siesta when the door chime jangled. Looking up, a courier approached the counter.

"Preparing for an unproductive afternoon I see" joked the courier.

"It makes the rest of the day more entertaining" Alved smirked. "I'm glad you remembered to show up but it looks like you forgot to bring the empty vials with you" he jested.

"Hah, no those haven't shown up yet. I'm here for—" the courier did a quick scan of the empty room "one of the sentinels tipped us that a foreign envoy is passing through town, Gavlan would like you to do some digging during their stay."

"Ah, foreigners! From where do they hail?"

"There are five in total and a cart of no known style. One of the individuals is a female wood elf, pale, likely a guide, probably from the Nul'dar forest at the outskirts. As for the other four: I don't know, their dress has never been encountered, which is strange considering the diversity of the travelers passing through our humble border town"

"Well what was their complexion, what ethnicity? Surely their features could at least hint at a general region?"

"Alved, we don't know, they are covered head to toe in red and black. Their faces are veiled save the eyes but they all have a visored circlet that obscures their visage from any angle but eye level. However they do carry a common insignia: a gold triangle"

"What do you mean by 'eye level'?"

"They're short" the courier plainly remarked with a shrug "really short, an average of a head and a half shorter than their pale wood elf guide"

"Curious, alright I'll gather what I can before I open again"

"I'll let Gavlen know" replied the courier. "Good luck my friend"

"Likewise, farewell" Alved replied warmly.

Wood elves were known to have a few inches above most mer but a head and a half under that? That WAS short, thought the alchemist turned informant as he exited his shop.

An hour after conversing with several innkeepers, his gradual query about new guests yielded him the inn that the newcomers were staying in. Disappointingly, the guests had left half an hour ago, and the host innkeeper was just as clueless as he about the origins or nature of the travelers. However, the innkeeper did know that the five and their cart headed toward the market; and fortuitously one of them seemed to understand standard. Gleefully, Alved bade the innkeeper goodbye and strolled towards the market square, eager to get a glimpse at the alien mer.

~~~~~~

The five made their way through the bustling but neat stone street to the obelisk in the distance denoting the marketplace. The throngs of elves gave the group a wide berth. Wide to avoid being crushed by the cart, wider to marvel at it, and even wider from those leading it.

"We're getting a lot of looks" remarked Josef in English to his towering translator at his front left.

"You aren't from here, what did you expect?" replied Salhera, the pale wood elf guide, in accented English.

"I thought this was a diversely populated trading hub, and neither are you" Josef retorted.

"True on both counts, but at least I'm not the shortest race of mer to walk the earth" Salhera jested.

"Humor. You've picked up the language fast" remarked Klaus, the tallest of the lot but still dwarfed by the wood elf.

"It's of my nature." pausing "They say the wind blows through my tongue."

"Wind through your tongue?" asked Josef.

"I apologize, that is the closest approximation I can think of in your language, I haven't heard an equivalent from you but I suppose 'magic cycle', is a more technical substitute"

"Let's just say magic" said Klaus with some apprehension that only the four could discern.

"Non dabimus eis quidquam" (give them nothing) recited Greta, the most slender and short of the four, in Latin.

'Give them nothing', the mission directive of all foreign exchanges, dictated that no technical knowledge, geography, or anything that wasn't unambiguously useless be shared among outsiders. Latin was spoken only rarely around their elf guide, as the purpose of the language was to be unintelligible to foreigners. Latin was not responded to except in emergencies, never used alongside non-Latin vocabulary, never taught to those without clearance, and in no circumstance an answer to a non-Latin question.

"These streets are remarkably well engineered!" Hans exclaimed (in english) to Klaus, giving the illusion that none of the four had paid attention to Greta's strange language.

"Yes they are, I don't know the extent of their design but I do know that the waste troughs drain to pits behind the hill when it rains" Salhera responded with less enthusiasm. "The city didn't really care they were dug atop the foundations of our tribe's mausoleum" she said dejectedly to Hans, in standard this time. Salhera was unaware that Greta spoke it as well.

Hans was the oblivious subject of Salhera's admiration, despite her having only seen an inch of his skin and the geometry of his figure, his understanding of standard and endearing personality assured her that whatever he was, it had to be handsome.

"Market's coming up!" announced Josef.

~~~~~~

Alved waded through the crowd of the market, standing on his toes to catch a glimpse of anything he didn't recognize. After circumnavigating the four blocks that comprised the center of the market square, he still didn't find what he was looking for. Resigning to the fact that he needed a pointer, he proceeded to badger merchants with questions about seeing elves that matched the courier's description. Admittedly, it would be difficult to see the strange mer on account of their stature and his present location. Eventually he found their most recently visited merchant whose description of the target patrons corroborated.

"They bought a great deal of smoked meat, among other foodstuffs. Fruits, butter, cheese. Seemed like they were almost done but they were looking for 'chemistry' ingredients, alchemy supplies it sounded like. I pointed them towards your shop"

"Thank you, Bavlo. Seems like it didn't have to chase down potential customers" Alved replied, hurrying off towards his store.

I could have just stayed home and saved myself the trouble, he grumbled to himself.

~~~~~~

Approaching his storefront, he saw them and their strange wagon waiting at the door. The vehicle was as queer as he imagined it. A composite of pinkish-yellow wood and what appeared to be a matte grey metal. The rear was emblazoned with a polished brass triangle and a mirror finished metal was inlaid flush with the angular patterns in the shining wood moulding. The wagon must have been extraordinarily heavy should it be made of plain iron, yet the strips of black metal that supported the axels did not sag, nor did the horses appear near death from exhaustion. Perhaps enchantments? He thought as he neared within arms' length.

"Greetings travelers!" welcomed Alved as he side-stepped the group to reach for the door. "I usually am closed in the afternoon, I hope you haven't waited long?" He explained, the question rhetorical from his point of view.

"No, not long" replied Hans in standard, the tenor pitch and grasp of the language took Alved off guard.

Opening the door, Hans and Klaus followed Alved inside. My god they're intimidating up close, Alved shuddered as a fleeting sense of doom came over him and instantly evaporated into a slight unease, then nothing. He caught himself mid-stride as just moments ago he was about to dash behind the counter to put some distance between him and the two mer.

The two paced about the shop, inspecting Alved's equipment and mixtures. Though he could not see their eyes, their transfixed gaze… surely filled with wonder that only a fellow alchemist could have. Forgiving himself for his skittish outburst he then relaxed, they were not so unfamiliar after all.

"This is an impressive laboratory you have here, it makes me miss mine from back home" Hans complimented in standard.

"Why thank you! It is not often that I encounter a fellow alchemist, anyone that does seem to take interest only cares about the end use of the practice, never the inner workings. Where do you hail from traveler? I have never seen ones such as yourself."

"You can call me Hans, we come from The Kingdom of the Three Point Star."

"Hah-ans?" struggled Alved.

"Pretty much" Hans shrugged.

"So the word is that you're an envoy, but you are an alchemist?"

"Envoy… yes. Word must travel fast we only arrived at noon?" said Hans, thankful that his inquisitive countenance was not visible. "I'm what our people call an 'engineer' of the 'chemical' or alchemical variety. It's not uncommon for my people to have multiple vocations, 'engineers' themselves are already a conglomerate of what you may consider philosophers, architects, and mathematicians."

"I see. That is quite odd but I am glad academics are a commonality across all mer cultures. Do you have a mage among you? I am simply fascinated by the construction of your wagon. The enchantments bound to it must be extraordinarily complex. Galamun could go on for hours." Alved gushed, an informant's prying could wait.

Hans invisibly recoiled at the mention of mages but it was encouraging that all his compatriots were ubiquitously believed to be a previously unknown ethnicity of mer. "I hate to disappoint but there are no mages among us…" Alved frowned but Hans continued, with enthusiasm this time, "…however there isn't a single enchantment on it! All of it is clever design and diligent studies of matter."

"No enchantments? No imbued magics? But how? Why?" stammered Alved, inundated by awe and disbelief.

Alved's unexpected reaction made Hans regret that he hadn't feigned ignorance, he quickly crafted a response from what he expected to say in a similar situation. "No magic. Our people believe there are several paths to the same end. To know all there is to know, this is the everlasting goal my people strive to." Hans regained his composure, his words were true and pure, but they weren't an explicit answer to why his brethren did not utilize magic. After his impassioned summary of his people's philosophy, he was confident enough to deliver his half-truth. "True we CAN enchant our carriage and content ourselves that we have reached a goal, but what of the paths not taken? What have we been left ignorant of when we leave knowledge deemed unnecessary buried and ignored? We climb the ever towering mountain of truth, until we know every foothold by heart"

Alved stood, processing what he heard before he responded. "Truly, I am impressed that a society diligently labors itself to total ascendancy; a testament to the endless capabilities of the mer."

Hans swelled with pride

"Pardon my questions, you came here to purchase supplies, yes?" Alved said stifling his urge to probe.

"Yes" replied Hans producing a large satchel and a tablet with three pages full of writing— double sided. "And we would like to trade with these" Hans laid a perfectly stacked set of silvery cylinders on the counter. The cylinders promptly toppled over in unison and scud themselves across the counter, attaching themselves to an iron beaker stand.

"What are those!?" Alved exclaimed, jumping back from the collision.

"Magnets" answered Hans.

"Magnets? How do they work? Magic?"

"That isn't my expertise. Klaus could explain if he had a grasp of standard" Hans lied, with a grin. Of course I know how they work he thought. There was no risk in bartering a few magnets if even the science of alloying was sorely neglected in favor of enchantments. Greta's reminder was still fresh in his mind, the baubles would disintegrate into a useless magnetic powder anyway after repeated (and inevitable) toying.

~~~~~~

Hans and Klaus hauled their purchases back to the inn, pleased that a few magnets had gained them two brimming crates of assorted acids, bases, chemical apparatae, extracts, resins, and waxes. Retrieval of unique elven compounds was a secondary objective of their expedition and Nal'esu's botanical products were fine specimens.

~~~~~~

"They were telling the truth" said Galamun, setting the two silvery cylinders back on the table. By some unknown force, they propelled themselves into the candelabrum across the dinner plate. Immediately on contacting the candelabrum, the knife adjacent spun its blade to contact the table ornament.

"That's new" remarked Alved.

"Still not magical" Galamun assured with a chuckle. "So 'magnets' they call them? Shame we don't have more specimens"

"Well there were four initially" Alved confessed.

"And why are there only two here?"

"Well these magnets are clearly attracted to other metallics and themselves. Quite forcefully. In fact, they exert a force far more potent than the powers holding their matter together. I had two specimens distanced from the other to get a sense of the volume that they influenced the other. Once they reached their critical distance, they overcame stationary forces and attracted by their own power. They were pulverized into dust really."

"Damn shame that is, but I sense there is something else you wish to ask" Galamun inferred.

"Well yes there is" Alved cleared his throat. "The visitors themselves are greatly concerning to me. I felt… strange, when two of them entered my shop. I can't describe more, it passed too quickly for me to remember it" Alved said with trepidation.

Galamun adopted a stern posture but a held a jocular grin "Are you sure Gavlan hasn't been working you too hard?" he chuckled.

"Wha— What, are you talking about?!" Alved stuttered.

Galamun, grinning "Easy Alved, your secret is safe with me, I know that fossil better than he does himself and if he's anything, it's predictable."

"But how?" asked Alved.

Galamun straightened up. "Gavlan's role was a suspicion of mine ever since he assumed the role of the local commander, simple deduction later confirmed my assumption as correct. He has always preferred those perceived as lax more than rigid sticklers with a pole up their ass. One exercises less caution if they don't feel endangered. You fit the lax bill quite nicely."

"Am I really that obvious?" Alved asked.

"No, not all, and I mean it seriously. I'm old, older than Gavlan. I've been around long enough to recognize these matters"

Alved relaxed. "Well it still stands, the visitors trouble me and it's not my nerves."

"Tell me what is so concerning"

Alved slouched. "When I was alone with two of them in my shop, for a brief moment after the door closed, I immediately was overcome with— a feeling. I caught myself preparing to sprint away and it passed immediately, I don't understand it."

Galamun frowned and brushed his chin. "That is odd, was one of them a mage?"

"The speaking one said no mages were among them"

"We are good friends, Alved. Yes?"

"Of course! I consider you my closest! You know that."

"So if there is something I asked you withhold from your report to Gavlan, you would honor that. Correct?"

Alved inhaled. "I prefer not to but for you, Galamun? Anything."

"Well then this is it. If there had been a mage among them they would likely keep it hidden for diplomatic means, often they are used as counsel but sending one into a foreign kingdom without anything but a token entourage is a risk." Galamun sighed then continued. "Mages are highly valued assets and as such prime targets for assassination, kidnapping, and other nasty dealings; you yourself are aware of the Empire's stance on alien mages. You said they were both shrouded and ornately dressed? My guess? All four are mages, and immensely powerful ones at that."

"But how could the Imperial skryers not detect them before they were even in sight of the town?" Alved asked, incredulous.

"Should they be the powerful mages I'm assuming they are, they would be able to mask their signature. However you were a single individual in a confined space with two of them, their excess ambient energies could not be dissipated to the outside and you were temporarily overwhelmed before their masking spell could compensate for the change."

Alved's disquiet about the incident was replaced with curiosity. "They had to have been in confined spaces with others throughout their stay here, the wood elf they travel with certainly must have. Why haven't they already raised suspicion?"

"No doubt they have been indoors, but what you were overwhelmed with was not dispersed to a multitude of other souls. You alone were grounded with their magical energies. Should they have all walked into a packed tavern, what you experienced would be divided amongst all present and felt as nothing but a cold breeze from an opened door. I must also explain that what you felt from the presence of the two mages won't be felt again, every soul emits a unique magical signal and you have been 'inoculated' to their's, temporarily, and only to the two you encountered. The wood elf is most definitely, permanently immune to their signals and may even be comforted by them."

"And what of Hah-an's explanation? What of the cart?"

"Either his explanation was horseshit and the cart is enchanted somehow or he was telling the truth and their people are such adept mages that they consider it trivial to physical sciences"

"The more I think back, the more I feel like there is another aspect to this" Alved persisted.

"I would be more than happy to inspect them myself should it put you at ease and provided that none of this goes to Gavlan" Galamun offered.

"Yes! Of course! Please!" exclaimed Alved.

"Calm Alved. I will covertly skry their energies for you but I am not going to walk up to a powerful magic entity and probe it. You but you must assist in this endeavor. Give me a minute"

Galamun rose and exited the kitchen. He returned with a stone, in it was carved four inward pointing arrows that faintly glowed orange. Handing the stone to Alved he explained "This is a locating rune. Since these mages mask their magical signature to blend in with the background magic, I will need you to take it with you so I know where to look. Go to the inn of which they stay and find their quarters. When you do, open a passage to the outside so my magic may permeate and leave the rune at the threshold and return to me. You'll likely be looking for a window."

~~~~~~

The five had rented three rooms on the second floor, technically it was now a suite. All three rooms were attached by an atrium that then led to a hallway of which branched several more atriums that provided access to each individual room. Doors separated the rooms from the atrium and the atrium from the hallway. Each room was made of neatly cut and polished stone blocks, thick enough that sound could only permeate through the wood doors into the atrium and the other two rooms attached to it. The rooms were furnished with a long bed of sorts spanning the entirety of the wall opposite the door. Carved in the floor was a hemispherical recession for bathing. The ceiling had a rectangular skylight fitted with an iron frame that held a translucent pane of uneven glass; the window could be tilted about its lateral axis by a counterweight and rope to allow it to open. Though it was an expense to stay in such a place, it was fitting for a visiting envoy and privacy was second to none.

Salhera and Greta each had their own rooms while Hans, Klaus, and Josef shared; the bed was big enough and there were enough cushions for a pillow wall.

Greta dreamed of a gift that she was illogically gifted.

Josef dreamed of his childhood home.

Salhera dreamed of Hans

Hans dreamed of Salhera.

Klaus had a nightmare.

The five had had been asleep for two hours when Klaus heard a creak.

~~~~~~

It was midnight but a full moon gave Alved decent lighting as he scaled the buttress that followed the stone structure up to the flat roof. He found it quite odd that his espionage fantasy was being fulfilled when he wasn't acting as an informant for the Empire. In his earlier conversation with the innkeeper, he gleaned that the suspect mages rented three rooms upstairs. Alved never asked the innkeeper about the occupancy of the other upstairs rooms nor which specific rooms the visitors rented, he had more tact than that. Relying on his alchemical experience, he thought back to condensers. A room occupied with living breathing creatures would become both hotter and more humid than the brisk outside air, he was looking for condensation on the glass. He paced about the roof and compared the appearance of the panes, checking which seemed fogged and then double checking. Fortune favored Alved; only three rooms were occupied. He choose the window nearest him. He first attempted to pry the frame up from the side of which the rope attached, but the translucent glass and dark room obscured the opening mechanism and he was ignorant to the taut rope. He then tried prying the other side with the counterweight but the unexpected difficulty lead him believe it did not open in that manner either. Perhaps it opens down? He thought. He pushed down on the weighted side but the taut rope prevented an inward tilt. He moved to the side with the rope and pushed down more forcefully than before. There was a great deal of resistance but it moved inwards slightly before returning back. He decided to use his body weight for leverage and wedge the rune into the gap to keep the window open long enough for Galamun to skry.

The lateral axis the window tilted about was acting as a fulcrum.

Pushing down on the edge of the iron frame with both hands and bearing down the weight of his shoulders, the window opened wide enough to wedge the rune in. He removed his hand clutching the rune from the window. One arm could not apply enough force and the window pushed closed. Resolving that he needed both hands free, he squat down. Putting his left foot on the roof and the right on the frame. He shifted his weight to the right cautiously. Holding the rune in his right hand, he tilted his head to the right to inspect how he could wedge the rune between the outer iron trim that supported the iron frame that held the glass pane. Dropping his right shoulder to tilt his head further down, more of his weight was applied to the window, more than the counterweight. The window swung down like a trapdoor and Alved tumbled into the dark room, the counterweight slammed the window shut.

The sound of the window slamming shut reflexively spurred Klaus upright as his eyes darted to the source of the disturbance. His head jerked downwards, following the diffuse path of the moonlight radiating from the ceiling down to the crumpled figure on the floor.

"INTRUDER!" Klaus screamed in English. His voice cracked from the the volume. Clearly unconcerned that he was wearing only undergarments he sprung out of bed towards his blade and lantern, purposely kicking Josef and Hans while doing so. Unsheathing his weapon and lighting the lantern in one swift motion. He belted out again, this time as a yell "INTRUDER!"

Instantly Josef and Hans launched out of the bed too, equally as underdressed as Klaus and similarly as apathetic. Their lanterns speedily lit and daggers were at the ready. On instinct, the three formed a half-circle and positioned to engulf the brightly illuminated black figure. Immediately after the half-circle materialized the wood door swung open, splintering on its hinges. Greta stormed inside, wearing her aluminum plate gambeson unbuttoned, she merged into the formation; positioning herself perpendicular to Josef's direction to cover the flanks. Not far behind Greta, Salhera entered the room shirtless with spear in hand. Momentarily she paused at the doorway. Recognizing her companions weapons, her eyes darted from Greta to Josef to Klaus to Hans (for a bit longer) and then to the robed figure. Furrowing her brow she scowled at the intruder and advanced to reinforce the line, positioning herself between Klaus and Hans.

Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Alved found himself surrounded, a spear inches from his face. Looking up he saw the wielder of the weapon, the wood elf. Slowly turning his head to the right, mouth agape, he saw it. A hideous perversion of a mer. Eerily familiar in proportion but different, wrong. Arms, waist, legs, all in the proper position on the torso and their length of correct ratio but the form was not right. Limbs were thicker. Muscles were robust and bulged. They formed faint creases in the pale skin that covered them, giving their explicit location as easily as a skinless cadaver. The shoulders were broader, as if they followed a horizontal line from the collar bone. Bones protruded with sharp definition at the joints, hip, and collar. Images of bony spikes tearing out of the creature's flesh flooded Alved's mind. The neck sprouted where it should, but it was slightly shorter and about as wide as the head rather than perceptibly narrower. Some sort of cords or tendons pulsed from the neck as it breathed. It's head was of roughly similar size and mounted to the neck like a mer's. Eyes, mouth, and ears were placed similarly with respect to the brow but the shapes were deformed. The brow was wider and protruded sharply while the bridge of the nose sunk, casting a terrifying shadow over the face. All other features were sickeningly bulbous. The ears had no point as if they were folded and brutally sewn down. The nose was shrunken and round. The chin was blunted. Cheeks fat and smooth, conjuring thoughts of leaches. But the eyes were the worst. At the center were simple black dots, they did not narrow or widen like a mer's would. They expanded and contracted like a goat's. Unlike a goat however, the dots were circled with a contrasting blue ring that afforded easy view of their undulating motion.

Alved wasn't staring at the thing for anymore than a second but it felt forever. Terrified and panicked he shouted "What the fuck are you?!"

Hans sternly responded in standard "Who the hell are you?"