I am a suspicious man by nature, so it was only rash foolishness
for Abigail to have taken me along into the inter-Shadow. I did not
believe in her illusion for long. Merely twenty minutes with Laughter
made me doubt, and a half an hour with Fiona made me believe in those
Laughter, while I did not raise her, has been the object of my
intense scrutiny this past year. Her construct's programming was wrong.
Perhaps I saw through it because of a private conversation we had in the
Pattern room, about five months before the children were born. She was
sitting and meditating on the Pattern. I was nervously standing beside
her -- I dislike the energies in that place, but I wanted to make sure she
didn't assail the thing while pregnant. One never knows what she'll take
into her head to do next.
She had been there some hours, and I was concerned that she might
be cold, stiff and hungry. I tried to broach the subject with her, to try
and fathom the depression that had been eating at her the past weeks. I
knew Archimedes was at a loss. Caitt was nearly beside herself. Fiona
even expressed some dismay.
I know that it is nearly useless to be subtle with Laughter --
either she refuses to catch it, or sees right through it and destroys it
by saying what you have tried not to say. So I spoke plainly to her that
day, and she began to talk to me, quite seriously. The things I learned
of her that day taught me much, and allowed me to destroy the illusions
Abigail had so delicately set up. It is not so much that Abigail had
carelessly constructed the future Laughter; it is that Abigail poorly
placed the future Laughter.
My thinking on this matter is hard to describe. Suffice it to say
that if one learns of the entire story of how Laughter came to love her
husband, one doubts that she would take an active role in the world after
her children were grown.
So, that was the seed. Because I didn't want to believe in this
future, where I had missed 125 years with my daughter and grandchildren,
where I had never had the chance to find forgiveness from Fiona, where
Wickling had thrived quietly, safe from the vengeance of Sawall... because
of these things, I did not believe. And I moved quickly down the path to
finding the truth.
Fiona was surprised and even happy to see me. I had few doubts
left after that.
I went to Ulysses then, and found the King next. I could not
allow the man who had given me sanctuary to give up before I found the
truth, and I also thought that having him near while I questioned Laughter
would aide me. If she can ignore him while I question her, I thought,
then she is not Laughter. Even if this were Laughter, and she were past
her grief for him, she would still love him. There would never be any
reason to stop; it's perfectly respectable for a widow to love her dead
husband, even if she is remarried.
She did not hold up to the test. I questioned her on every moment
we had shared since our meeting. Her information was well-stocked -- it
would be if the computers were in use. It is my belief that they have
recorded every moment that has passed in the universe since they came on
line. In fact, her information was a little too convenient. How could
she remember so well the exact wording of conversations ended 125 years
Whoever was running her became aware of what I was doing. The
construct that was not my daughter took a dagger from her boot and plunged
it into her abdomen -- then pulled it up towards her heart -- then grabbed
the edges of the wound and ripped them apart to show -- nothing at all.
Archimedes was aghast. I was satisfied. We found everyone quickly. Our
departure was not hampered. I think that Abigail had no intention of
holding us there once the illusion was shattered.
I punctured through the inter-Shadow with brute force. Finesse
was impossible, since I couldn't even begin to guess how the place
actually interacts with the universe. I sensed for any point of reality
at all through the barriers, and found Arden. The Logrus went at my
bidding, and we were home.
We were home, and in the middle of a battle. Action was necessary
to stay alive, so action was taken. We eventually made a path through to
our side. I say "our side" with no small measure of irony, since I
several times fought against that very side through my life. But Chaos is
no more. It is Wickling. It is necessary to remember that.
At the end of the day, we returned to Castle Amber. Laughter had
twined her mind around the Eye as well. I did not point out that all
Halybards have sworn to return that Eye to the Serpent, for after all, she
is no more Halybard than I am, when it comes down to it.
The day began with a healing, and ended with an execution.
Old Atherton was disgruntled to find I would be helping in the
healing of him.
"Sawall," he grumped. I smiled charmingly. "I suppose you're here
to finish me off?"
"Quite the contrary," I said, while Fiona began her preparations.
"As you know, Sawall is defunct, making me simply your doctor."
This chagrined him. "Sorry about that."
I inclined my head graciously, mostly to hide my eyes.
And the execution:
We were told to come to the Pattern room. I was not eager to do
so, but I went, and Ulysses marched Abigail into the room and kicked her
onto the Pattern. Her death was a stunning example of why I do not like
the Pattern room. She burst into flames and screamed and died. I looked
around the faces that I could see in that cruel and eerie light. Some
wore looks of triumph, most were resigned. My daughter lost her dinner.
I frowned at this.
Brand's son made some foolish remark, I don't remember what, and
Laughter drew herself up to a military stance and barked, "That will be
enough, Sandr." She pivoted on her heel and left. Her husband followed,
looking mostly thoughtful. The rest of the crowd milled around. I looked
thoughtful as well, mostly in the direction of Ulysses. Laughter tells me
he wasn't always like this.
I began the long, dark ascent up the stairs.
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