We finished the sweat lodge early in the afternoon, and since it
was done, I had to try it out. The boys were game as well. I knew Dakota
would be interested, but I questioned Vain's motivations. Not out loud,
of course, that would be hypocritical.
The peyote I conjured was strong, and the visions began soon after
I saw the world through another's eyes; Oberon's, I believed; I
walked out from an Amber that had yet to exist and into Shadow; I walked
for a long time before kneeling and planting a tree...
The vision faded, and I found myself back in the sweat lodge; it
seemed later in the day; I heard women speaking, magic of some sort, and
the Unicorn was walking towards me; the background faded, and left only
the Unicorn walking toward me with the Jewel around its neck; the Jewel
grew until it filled my vision, and I was seeing the world through a red
haze, and then I saw a tomb in Amber, and what looked to be Alaric, as he
had been in Abigail's future; he opened the tomb's door and then walked to
the crest of a hill; a procession was wending its way to the tomb, led by
a priest; I saw Laughter in the crowd, and Kaedric, and Claudio, and other
faces I knew; the procession held a body aloft on a pallet; I couldn't see
the face of the corpse, but it had gray-green hair; when the priest had
reached the tomb, he removed his cowl from his face, and I saw that it was
Ulysses; and then the Unicorn kicked me.
As I thought about the visions, I began to realize that something
wasn't right. Background noises began to filter into the lodge through
the peyote haze, a dogfight and the sound of metal on metal. That brought
me back to my senses rather quickly. I emerged from the lodge to the
bodies of strange dogs; they were white with red ears. Laughter and
Beauty were nowhere in sight. My eyes dropped to the ground for the story
it had to tell. The dogs were merely the first wave. Horses came next,
out of nowhere, so I assumed their mounts were elven. Laughter and Beauty
had been taken by the na si. But how? Laughter had seemed to have
everything under control. I ran into the manor, after throwing some water
on Vain and Dakota to snap them out of it. By the time I got to Caitt and
told her what had happened, the first wave of fear was beginning to wash
over me. I Trumped Random and passed the children through. I told Caitt
I was going after Laughter. She said she was coming with me.
My mind wandered back to my days on the high plains. I was
tempted to handle this in much the same fashion I would have handled it
then; sneak in, assess the enemy camp, kill who I needed to quickly, take
what I needed, and be gone. But this time I knew nothing of the enemy,
and worse still, they probably knew magic. In a flash of insight, I
decided to call in some markers. I Trumped Caitlin first, then Claudio.
I asked Caitlin if she knew of any shapeshifters we could trust; disguises
would be necessary, after all, as humans we'd be rather obvious in Dexter.
She volunteered her mother, and Aelle joined us, much to my surprise.
Maybe she had gotten over the Jezetti massacre.
Aelle began transforming our little group, all except Caitt, who
was to be our prisoner. I discovered that having shards of the Jewel in
one's chest inhibits what a shapeshifter could do to you. I had to get by
with cosmetic changes, while the rest of the group got to get taller. I
swear it's Random's curse. The more the preparations dragged on, the more
I tried not to think about what they were doing to Laughter. I failed
miserably, and a tidal wave of guilt began to crash down upon me.
I had to conjure us new weapons, as ours contained cold iron and
would be counterproductive to our disguises. As I planted Song in the
ground, I made a mental note to chastise Sequence for letting his mistress
be taken. And then Benedict was standing amongst us. At his declaration
to join us, Aelle made him into the ugliest na si I had ever seen.
Apparently she was still pissed at him.
When I thought I could stand the delay no longer, we seemed to be
ready. Caitt recited the mantra, and we crossed over from the Midlands to
Dexter. Claudio was playing leader, due to his size and coloration, and I
was his servant, based on my stature and the fact that I obviously was a
half-breed. I questioned Caitt as we walked, desperate for any
information she could give me on what to expect. I've always adapted
well, but when Laughter was concerned, I was loathe to take any chances.
It didn't take long for a na si patrol to collect us. There were
a few bumps in the road, but they eventually accepted us at face value,
though they would have rather we sold Caitt to them. We killed them as
they slept that night, and continued on to where Claudio's magics said
Laughter was. When we approached the stronghold, a horrid wailing went
up. I assumed that we had set off some sort of magical alarm, and tapped
into the Jewel that hung around my neck. They cry was strangled as I
banished magic from the Shadow. That ought to keep the magic-lousy
I pulled Song from a thicket and ran to the gate. I cut a roughly
human-sized hole in it, assuming that Benedict and Claudio would be smart
enough to duck. They did, Benedict hardly waiting for the wood to fall
before entering. I followed close behind, and let the ring tell me where
I needed to go. The na si are strong, but I'm fast. Song cut through
them easily, and then Ulysses was standing at my elbow, oblivious to the
chaos around him.
"I can't pick Laugher's lock."
And then I was no longer in the courtyard, but the dungeon. I
removed the lock with Song. Laughter was within, her arms and legs still
chained to the rack upon which she lay. The guilt wave nearly drowned me.
I gently cut her loose and collected her into my arms. Ulysses took us
home. I carried her up to the bedroom and laid her on the bed. Her
shapeshifting was taking care of most of the damage. I encouraged a few
joints to align properly and then conjured cold compresses. She woke up
long enough to tell me to have myself changed back. I did as soon as she
fell asleep again.
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