I never really thought of the Mergence in the light of a holy war,
but seeing my home Shadow again as it was before the Mergence, and
standing with Mother while a horde of na siogai warriors surrounded us,
well, I began to see.

	I left Ulysses in some boring diplomatic meeting on the Golden
Circle and took Oriana to Foil, to help Mother with the ritual of the
Mergence.  I deposited Ori in the nursery, where Grandmum and a pack of
hounds and a few servants were watching over my other self and Alaric with
an indulgent eye, and keeping Beatrice out of trouble.  (First she wanted
to ride the doggies, then she wanted to bite the doggies...  Hm.)

	I walked through the Manor, noting how the decor hadn't changed
much, after all, in eleven years.  I got on the track of time and totally
screwed myself up -- seven years Amber, eleven years Foil, and fourteen
years for me.  I thought of the possibility of a Shadow-wide clock...

	Outside, the gardens were picturesque, but not nearly as elaborate
as Mother had made them after the War.  Up the river path, I saw three
green heads building...  something.  A little domed house.  Perhaps a new
chicken coop?  A smokehouse?  A fine mizzle was starting up, and I found
Mother washing her hands in lamb's blood.  Ah, yes, the dark arts...

	"Hi there," she smiled.  "Just starting."  She held out the bowl of
blood, and I walked forward and, smiling back, dipped my hands in.

	*			*			*

	They didn't think it was necessary to knock me unconscious, as I
wasn't wearing a sword, and didn't look particularly dangerous, even with
my hair crackling with sorcerous energy.  Mother and I treed at least two
of the bastards before they knocked her out, and I guess they attributed
the treeing all to her.  When I treed another of them, *that's* when they
decided that I should be at least stunned harshly.  Sword-hilt to the back
of the head.  Ow.  I kind of fell over, not completely out of it, and they
dragged us back to the Dexter.

	They couldn't figure out who I am, or what I mean to Laughter. 
They held onto me pretty tight, and I got groped a couple of times, for
which I cursed my na si blood, since that's what makes me attractive to
them.  A little more human in appearance, I'd be as revolting to them as
they are to me.  All the same, I figured it was better to play it a little
more out of it than I was, rather than get hit again.  There's the
intrinsic different between Mother and I...  Getting hit means you're
making progress, to her.

	We were dragged into a small rath, quite some ways up into the
hills, and a tall man who looked amazingly familiar sneered down at us
from a height rivaling Claudio's, or Benedict's, or Kelemon's.  He kind of
toed Mother in the side, not too hard, and smiled, and jerked his head,
and his guards took her off.

	Then he came over to me.  He ordered them to pull me up, and then
he bent at the waist and sniffed at me.  Like a hound catching a scent. 
"Quarter-breed," he said distastefully.  I gave him the lop-sided sort of
grin Ulysses gets when he knows something someone else doesn't.

	"What is it?" he asked sharply.  I thought of all the things I knew
that he didn't, and just kept smiling, until he smacked me.  Pretty hard,
too.  I absorbed the blow, and fell into a damned convincing stage faint,
and they dragged me off to some dank cell, where I shapeshifted into a
form that doesn't mind cold iron.  They shackled me to a wall, and left.

	I couldn't get a spell off to save my life, I wasn't even going to
attempt to break the chains in this form, so what was left but to try
becoming a demon?  It's not too hard for me anymore, and it was so much
more likely to be useful than becoming an otter.

	Pretty soon, my skin was pale blue and my forearms bulged with
muscle.  I ripped the chains out of the wall, and laughed a little to
myself.  It's kind of a scary laugh, in that form...  Though I was a
little perturbed that I had definitely ruined my new dress.  The
bloodstains might have come out, but few articles of clothing can survive
that kind of change.  Damn...

	Once I was free of the shackles, I realized my dilemma was still
the same.  The door was heavy oak bound in iron, and the walls were iron
and stone, more than even a demon could handle.  A na siogai prison, meant
to hold na siogai, who are, as a rule, a bit stronger than your average
human.  Of course, I am not your average human, but I still couldn't break
out of the cell.

	I sat down in the corner and drowsed, feeling rather tired and
beat up.  The na siogai lord... looked just like the portraits of
Calamus... idiot hadn't even recognized me as his niece.  I kind of liked
that.  It appealed to my sense of irony.  But that brief pleasure soon
faded, and I faced the facts that Mother was likely getting worse
treatment than I, and the war in this time is far from over.  The na
siogai would have no compunctions about killing me to open a gate, though
I'm a little past the prime age requirement, and my virginity is... well,
it's a long time in the past.

	I leaned my head against the wall and thought of how things have
changed since the day Mother cut Ulysses' foot off...  There's Mother and
Archimedes for one; for two, I've turned sixteen and been through a
simulacrum of the curse, and out the other side (and the universe ended
while I was asleep, thankfully); and for three, there's Ulysses and Ori.
I was creating a vision of a family picnic, with Ori off with one of her
puppies, and Ulysses and I stretched out on blankets, and the sky matching
his eyes, when all of a sudden, I was convinced that someone was there, in
the cell with me.  I opened my eyes, suddenly, and Claudio was indeed
standing there, and he didn't disappear when I jumped up to throttle him
with a hug.  He passed me through to Ulysses, who grinned confidently, and
rainbows shimmered, and he dropped me in Foil in the nursery where I grew
up, and went off after my mother.  I scooped up Oriana and gave her a hug,
and sat down on the floor, and took a deep breath, and then burst into
tears.  It had been that kind of day, after all...

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