The move to Kaedricways went without difficulty, and Alora
appeared to have no trouble adapting to her new home. Not that I had
expected her to, but I was relieved to see it, nonetheless. She seemed
fascinated by the Abyss, prompting me to give her strict instructions not
to go near it without an adult present. If the servants seemed surprised
by our return with a ten-year-old child, they did not show it.
We were still in the process of settling in when I received a
message from Niccolo, requesting a meeting with me at my earliest
convenience. I assumed it pertained to his new position, which was to
begin the next day, and sent word that I would see him in an hour. He
arrived promptly, and we quickly got the pleasantries out of the way, so
as to get to the purpose of the meeting. He got to the point directly.
"It has come to our attention that you may be considering a certain
individual for a position of some power. You may have heard of him. His
name is Sylvester." I kept my expression nonchalant, and admitted that I
recalled him from the Tournament. Niccolo proceeded to inform me that
Vertix would rather Sylvester was not given the position - for reasons
they could not go into, of course. He merely implied that there was an
issue as to Sylvester's trustworthiness. How fascinating. I told him I
would give it due consideration, and pondered the matter for quite some
time after he had left. On the surface, it seemed a simple enough
request, but nothing is ever simple where House Vertix is concerned.
Surely they were aware of my relationship to Sylvester. Sylvester had
admitted as much to me at my wedding. So, why give me such a message? To
see if I would tell Sylvester? Or pass it on to the King? Perhaps it is
a test to see if Swayvill will listen to them, or choose to do the
opposite of what they wish? It could be all of that, and more. I
resolved to think on the matter further, since my next meeting with
Swayvill was not for some time. More time than I had expected, as it
turned out, but more on that later.
When I emerged from the sitting room, I was presented with a note
from my husband. It seems Theo had left a message for me on the Net in
Ivory, and he wished to be sure that I did not leave without him. He need
not have worried. Admittedly, there was a time when I might have done so,
but as it was, I found that I wished his company. I pictured him in my
mind, and his image quickly took on life. He smiled as I asked if he felt
like taking a trip, knowing full well why I had called. We garbed
ourselves appropriately, gathered up Ran's deck, and proceeded to Ivory.
I hoped Theo was ready to take the damn thing back.
We arrived in the marketplace, it being the only point in Ivory
that one can access via Trump. I have heard it said that just about
anything can be bought or sold in the capital marketplace, and if this is
not so, then it comes close enough as to make no difference. I verified
that my defensive spells were all in place, and then made my way through
the crowds to a public terminal. Not that I expected to be attacked, but
I would not be the first Ivoran to die while just out for a quick stroll.
I do like that aspect of Ivory. It keeps you on your toes. Theo's
message was easy enough to pick out from the others, flagged as urgent and
blinking red the way it was. It was brief, instructing me to meet her in
an hour's time with the deck, but there was a frantic quality about it.
Kaedric and I decided to pass the time by having dinner at the Lantern
Gardens. If you need to ask why, then you obviously have never been
there. It had changed little since the last time I visited, when Caitlin
had been so disconcerted by the dancers. A typical tymon reaction. Most
Ivorans consider the dancers to be the best part of the meal. They
certainly outdid themselves this time, and I wondered once more how they
assumed some of those positions without the benefit of shapeshifting. All
in all, it was a rather pleasant dinner, and I am glad that we went there.
It was the last pleasant time we would have together for quite some time.
The appointed hour was upon us all too quickly, and we journeyed
to the address Theo had given. She looked quite upset when she ushered us
in, her hair coming out of her pins in a rather undignified manner. It
seems there was something disquieting affecting magic, and Ran alone could
not get near it, so they had called in backup. Me. Naturally, she was
quite pleased to find that Kaedric had come along as well. I gladly gave
over the box containing Ran's deck to her, and felt a certain amount of
tension leave me as I did so. It was good to finally be rid of it.
Kaedric had to open the box for her, of course, and she looked puzzled as
to why it was so protected, but I offered her no explanation. She seemed
to file that away for later, and proceeded to do a reading, frowning a bit
at the results. I checked the cards, and found that she had drawn the
prisoner being released, the king of swords, and the king of assassins. I
found the presence of the first card disquieting, but could not interpret
the rest. If Theo saw something more in them, she did not share it as she
put the cards away. The table and rug were quickly moved aside to reveal
a trap door in the floor, which Theo opened. A red glow emanated from
below, and Dworkin's ring began to pulse in time with it. I glanced at
Kaedric, to see if he had noticed. He offered the box which had held
Ran's deck to me, and I secured the ring therein, prompting another odd
look from Theo. I smiled, and began to make my way down the stairs. I
caught a glimpse of Ran standing next to a red jewel, then there was an
explosion, and the world went black.
I became aware of distant murmuring, and opened my eyes. I
regretted this almost instantly, as I realized that my Pattern was gone,
and my head felt ready to split open. I closed my eyes again, and waited
for the room to stop spinning. The murmuring resolved into voices. One
of them was my daughter's. I opened my eyes again, more slowly this time,
and discovered that I was in my bedchamber in Kaedricways. The curtains
had been drawn, leaving the room mercifully dim. I looked in the
direction of the voices, and made out two sets of eyes peering around the
door. Alora's ice blue eyes were easy enough to identify. The second
pair was framed by a darker face, and I concluded that this must be
Graham. They saw my movement and immediately fell silent. I bade them
both to enter. They looked very worried as they approached, carrying a
tray between them. I smelled stew, and suddenly became aware of how
terribly hungry I was. I ate as quickly as I could, without moving my
head any more than necessary, and questioned Alora as to what had
happened. Apparently, I had been unconscious for about five hours, but
Kaedric had assured Alora that I would be fine. Assured her repeatedly,
in fact. He must have been terribly worried, and I think Alora picked up
on that. I asked where he was, and learned that he and Claudio were
meeting with Swayvill. I found that somewhat strange, but felt in no way
up to pursuing it at the moment.
Alora also revealed that before Kaedric left, he had given her and
Graham the stew, some wine, and instructions that they were not to wake me
if I was still sleeping. This explained why they had been loitering by
the door. Alora looked rather concerned, and asked if they had woken me.
I lied and assured her that this was not the case, then eyed the wine with
some trepidation. Ever since the incident with the absinthe, I have
always been wary of alcohol that originated with Kaedric. There is no
rational reason for it, of course, and I certainly could not explain this
to Alora, not when the incident in question was the reason she existed.
Alora was most insistent that I drink the wine, however, and revealed that
she had been instructed to Trump Kaedric if I proved difficult. I soon
relented, more to easy the worry in her eyes than out of any concern about
her contacting Kaedric. As I slowly sipped the wine, she told me of her
day's adventures with Graham. They had gone riding over the Abyss, with
supervision, of course, then had a sorcery contest. Alora proudly
admitted that she won by treeing Graham. Naturally. Graham protested
that this was unfair, since he felt it was better to use spells you had
created yourself. I pointed out that this was scant comfort if you lost,
secretly marveling at the amazing nonsense that Claudio had filled the
boy's head with. I do not remember much beyond that, for the wine made me
even more drowsy than I had been before, and it was not long before I
closed my eyes and let the world fade away again.
I am not sure what caused me to awake, nor how much time had
passed. It was dark outside, and my head still throbbed, even worse than
before. I opened an eye, and was rather surprised to find Caitlin staring
down at me. I wondered, rather fuzzily, why Kaedric had let her in, and I
gave her a questioning look. "I'm sorry to do this to you," she said. I
tried to cast a force wall, but it was too late, and everything went dark
When the darkness receded, I found myself in a long, low room,
with no apparent windows or doors. My head still throbbed incessantly,
Caitlin's blow not having helped matters any, and what I beheld upon
glancing around only made it ache all the more. I had thought the room
seemed familiar, and now I knew why. The Logrus twisted and writhed
before me. I had been here once before, in another time, with Mother and
Sylvie. We had come to rescue Bleys, Fiona and Random, only it had been
far too late for Random. Now I was alone, and the Logrus was moving
closer. I edged away and tried to Trump out, then realized that I could
not. I was cut off from the Trump energy entirely, for the first time in
a decade. Which meant I was mortal once more. I found this rather
disquieting. My feeling of unease only grew when sorcery failed to
provide for my exit as well. I contacted Kaedric then, through our rings,
and sent a rather panicked plea. He seemed quite alarmed at where I found
myself. Not nearly so much as I, you may be sure. A hissing sound began
to grow then, and the Logrus continued to draw closer. I frantically
began trying to blast my way through the wall with sorcery, and made a
sizable hole, but there was nothing but more wall behind it. I am not
sure how long I continued in my desperation, until I realized that there
now seemed to be words behind the hissing. I stopped my futile efforts
and listened. What else could I do? As the words "It is time" echoed
around me, I became aware of the Serpent's presence in the room, and felt
my blood go cold.
"Time for what?" I asked, knowing the answer full well, but
hoping, somehow, that I could stall until Kaedric arrived. I checked his
location, then looked at the rapidly approaching Logrus, and knew he would
be too late.
"Time for you to be mine. You have been so, ever since you looked
into my eye."
"Lots of people looked into your eye."
It did not seem to like that response very much, judging by its
hiss. I tried to calm myself. Irritating the Serpent, especially while I
was in its place of power and blocked to Trump, did not seem an especially
good idea. I tried another tack.
"Because you will be the next Queen of Chaos."
Damn Kaedric, I knew something like this would happen, someday.
It is why I never wished to hold such an open position of power. I felt
no sense of victory at being proven right in this manner, however. The
Logrus began to swirl around my ankles, and I checked Kaedric's position
once more. He was closer, but he might as well have been in Amber, for
all the good it would do me. In a fit of pique, I informed him that this
was all his fault.
"I do not suppose you can wait until my headache has gone away?" I
asked, grasping desperately at straws. A hiss was my only answer. I felt
the cold stone wall press against my back. There was no escape. I wished
I had asked Kaedric more about what his first walk was like. I had no
preparation for this, no idea of what to expect, only that it would drive
me insane in the end, and some never recovered. Or made it out at all,
for that matter. At least when I took the Pattern for the first time,
Father had drilled me quite thoroughly beforehand as to what would happen,
and what I should and should not do. I had no such guidance here. Maybe
you were supposed to run screaming from the Logrus. Or maybe that would
ensure my end. I had no way of knowing. But, if I was going to die, I
would face it head on, not cringing in a corner. I reached out for
Kaedric one final time, and told him to meet me on the other side. I felt
his concern, but there was no helping it. I told him I loved him, took a
deep breath, and stepped forward.
Madness took me, as I knew it would. Knowing this did not help,
however. I saw things that even now I dare not describe, lest I am lost
once more. I was myself, and I was the Serpent, I was there for all time,
and for no time, I had been walking forever, and I had just begun. And
then, suddenly, Kaedric was standing there, and I was free, and I knew
what I had to do. I opened my arms to embrace him. I opened my arms to
destroy him. And I fell into darkness.
I was tied in a chair, restrained in a white jacket. I laughed.
I was the Serpent, after all, no jacket could hold me. I began to slither
away, and was attacked. I whirled and sank my fangs into his flesh. He
died with a satisfyingly anguished scream.
I found a rock to sun myself on. The warm rays felt good on my
furry body. This silly girl arrived, and I ignored her. She spoke to me,
and I mocked her. She called me Miranda, and gave me cake. I ate it, and
grew smaller. I flew into her ear and killed her.
The chair again. The jacket again. What was I doing here? My
throat felt hoarse, like I had been screaming. I slithered free once
more. The dead man arrived. He called me Miranda. I laughed at his
foolishness, for the Serpent has no name. He tried to stop me from
leaving. I tore his throat out and flew away.
I was surrounded by bodies. I recognized them as my brothers.
Weaklings, all. I knew that I had killed them, and I felt proud. I heard
someone clapping, and turned to find Father standing behind me. "I knew
you were the one," he said. "But there is still one more." He stepped
aside, and I saw Kaedric behind him, tied to a tree. Our eyes met, and he
told me that he loved me. I slit his throat, and laughed as his warm
blood sprayed over me.
The dead man would not go away. Always, I returned to the chair
and the jacket. Always, he appeared. Always, I killed him and fled. But
always, the pattern repeated again.
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