The argument with Kaedric ended in the manner that our arguments
often do, with one of us walking away angry. This time, it was Kaedric
who left in a huff. I felt some small satisfaction at that. It is rare
that I can beat him in these little disagreements of ours. After Kaedric
stormed out of the room, I saw no point in remaining in Kaedricways, so I
departed for my office a little early and passed the time doing more
paperwork, until Dakota showed up for his appointment. He had questions.
A lot of questions. As near as I could tell, he had no knowledge of
protocol or diplomacy whatsoever. I had to wonder what Amber was thinking
in sending one so grossly underqualified for such a position. Even Vertix
had known protocol, even if he did not always use it. Fortunately, Dakota
learned fast, and I only had to explain things to him once. I worked
through lunch trying to give him an introduction to basic protocol, and I
was relieved to see that be bowed exactly the correct amount to Alora when
we arrived at tea. Perhaps he might survive after all. If he could learn
all he needed to know before it became a matter of life and death. Still,
if Ulysses' purpose in Chaos was to ensure Dakota's education, he had
failed miserably. And I did not appreciate having to do his job.
The tea itself went rather smoothly. The only odd occurrence was
Alora's attitude throughout. She was not rude, of course, nothing of the
sort. But, something was obviously occupying her mind, and it was not
Dakota. Given that she was the one who had invited Dakota, I found this
rather puzzling. I attempted to ask her about this after tea, but she
immediately went to her rooms, and did not answer my knock. Suspecting
that she had left, I used Trump to verify that she was in Thelbane. In
Swayvill's office, to be specific. This did nothing to ease my anxiety.
I kept an eye on her for the rest of the afternoon, while I halfheartedly
went about my duties. She returned shortly before dinner, with barely
enough time to dress. I asked her then what was troubling her, but she
denied anything was the matter. I did not believe her, of course, but
there was little I could do about it. I suppose I could have spoken to
Kaedric about it, but he and I had not exchanged words since our earlier
argument, and I was not inclined to talk to him. Nor would I have had the
time, for I had Ian to deal with, as it was. He had chosen to wear jeans,
a T-shirt and a lab coat for his debut in Amber, and therefore had to be
redressed, much to his displeasure. This process was briefly interrupted
by a Trump call from Claudio, who apologized in advance for not attending
Ian's presentation. He seemed to feel that I would take his absence
amiss, somehow. I suppose he was afraid that I would interpret it as a
slight. What was truly fascinating was the reason for his absence. He
was not on good terms with a member of the royal family, and I had a
feeling that person was Archimedes. You would think Claudio would know
better than to anger him. He does not let go of grudges easily.
The dinner itself was relatively uneventful. Ian seemed surprised
to be the center of so much attention. The occasions that we had forced
him to be social had been rare, since he was still too young to be
involved with such things in Mayfair. Graham spent much of the meal
watching Alora and looking thoughtful. I suspected he was scheming of a
way to pass some years in Shadow himself. The question was, would Claudio
allow it? Assuming he bothered to ask Claudio's permission.
I spoke briefly with Archimedes after dinner, expressing my
concern over the holes in Dakota's knowledge. He confirmed that it was
supposed to be Ulysses' job to fill in those holes, and suggested I bring
the matter up with him. I held little hope of success in doing so, but I
had my duty, after all. Ulysses contrived to avoid me, however, much to
my relief. I left a note for Archimedes explaining the situation, and, my
duty thus discharged, returned to Kaedricways with my family.
It was after Alora and Ian had gone to bed, and Kaedric and I were
readdressing the morning's argument, that the butler announced Graham's
presence in the Ways. A somewhat older Graham from the one we had seen at
dinner not a few hours ago. Kaedric seemed unsurprised by his changed
appearance, and by his request to stay with us until his father's anger
cooled. I had no objections to this, of course. I have never felt all
that charitably towards Claudio, after all. A room was arranged for him
in the Green Wing, far away from Alora. After the boy had been shown to
his rooms, I regarded Kaedric with a bit of irritation. Graham's reckless
acquisition of power at such a young age did nothing to ease my concerns
about Alora. Of course, I was certain that we had done a far better job
with her than Claudio had done with Graham, but... Her secret meeting
with Swayvill troubled me. What could she be up to? If Kaedric had any
suspicions, he chose not to share them with me.
I got my answer the following morning, when Kaedric and I both
received notification from Swayvill of a meeting of the Council to be held
six days hence. Suddenly, everything fell into place. Alora could not be
on the Council until she was of age. However, if she convinced Swayvill
to call a Council meeting, and Kaedric did not gainsay her place... I had
to admire how neatly she had outmaneuvered him. As did he. At least we
had taught her well. Kaedric and I made up that evening. It was hard to
be angry at him when I was busy laughing at him.
Graham and Alora did not spend much time talking in the days
leading up to the meeting, at least not where I could observe them. Ian
got along well with Graham, once he realized that Alora liked him only as
a friend. Dakota, on the other hand... Dakota came by for tea once more
during the week, and Graham and Ian spent the entire occasion glaring at
him. He handled it very well, and definitely showed improvement overall.
I concluded that Archimedes must have either talked to Ulysses, or found
another instructor. I suspected the latter.
Claudio was invited to dinner during the week as well.
Ostensibly, this was to allow him to meet Ian, since he had missed the
dinner in Amber. Amazingly enough, Ian seemed to like Claudio, at least
more than he did Sylvester. There is no accounting for taste, I suppose.
The dinner also let Claudio know that Graham was staying with us, since
Graham had not contacted Claudio since he had arrived. They said little
during the dinner, but Claudio Trumped Graham later, and they managed to
work things out. Graham claimed to be doing what he was because he wanted
to help Alora, and so he could not let her be all alone. He sounded more
like a friend than a possible lover, much to my relief.
It was still a few days before the Council meeting when I heard
the faint sounds of combat coming from somewhere outside my office. After
erecting the appropriate defensive spells, I scried the area and found the
source of the sounds, although I could not identify the combatants. This
is when Kaedric arrived at my door, and said we were leaving. After
assuring myself that he was, indeed Kaedric, I went with him. He told me
that remnants of Finndo's army were attacking, and, not knowing the
situation, he did not wish to Trump directly into the Ways. I felt my
heart rise up into my throat at that, for I had not thought that the Ways
might be under attack, as well. I could only hope that Alora and Ian were
all right. Needless to say, I was anxious to get home as fast as
possible. We hurried to a secret passage that Kaedric knew of, that would
see us out of there.
The whistling noise became apparent shortly after we entered the
passageway. It was a horrible sound, and I shifted to demon form almost
immediately. That is when I noticed that I was having trouble breathing,
and I lost consciousness quickly thereafter. My last thought was that I
hoped Kaedric was faring better. I awoke to find out that he had not. We
both lay on a pallet, in human form again, but Kaedric was obviously
somewhat the worse for wear. There were bruises around his throat and
temples, and they did not seem to be healing, although I knew my own
shapeshifting was working. For a moment, I feared the worst, and a voice
in my head screamed, "Not again!" Then I saw that he was breathing, and
my heart started beating again. Whoever had us, wherever we were, they
did not want us dead. Not yet, at least.
A quick check revealed that neither sorcery, Trump or Logrus were
available to me. As I glanced around the room, I suddenly realized that
Kaedric and I were not alone. There were two figures seated at the other
end of the room, although the light was such that I could not make them
out. I immediately shifted to my demon form again. Not because I truly
believed it would do me any good, but because it was the only thing I
could still do. One of the figures stood up at that, then paused and
yanked on her leg, almost as though it were stuck. I am assuming it was a
woman, for once she stood, I was able to see that she wore a skirt. She
managed to free her leg and left the room without a word. Then the second
figure stood and began to approach me. As he came into the light, I could
make him out more clearly, but I did not recognize him. He had brown hair
and rather ordinary features, except for the eyes. They were red. I
should have realized who he was then, but I did not. I backed away from
him, and found myself up against a wall. I slid to the side, but it was
too late. He wrapped an arm around me and touched the back of my head,
and suddenly I was human again. How had he done this? The fear I had
been keeping at bay began to coalesce in my mind. "Do I know you?" I
asked, wondering what it was about him that seemed almost...familiar.
"We're acquainted," he replied, then forced my mouth to his and kissed me.
I knew what he was going to do, then, and as I felt his tongue enter my
mouth, I vowed I would not make it easy for him. I bit down on his tongue
with every bit of strength I possessed...and realized that it was forked.
And I began to scream endlessly, while the Abyss swallowed me whole.
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