I sat at the end of the bed, my bed, in my inn, on my Plane of
existence, my head buried deeply in my hands. What had I done? Fiona had
said that I had assumed ownership of this world, from which all magic
came. I could barely control the stuff, and now I had sole possession to
the franchise. How had I done it? Fiona had not said, seemingly
convinced that I must have purposely accomplished this feat. This was not
the first time this had happened to me, of course; I had discovered after
the Pattern collapsed that several of my spells drew on its power
directly, apparently a rare achievement. It was frustrating to constantly
learn that what I did in all innocence others had been failing at for
years. I wondered what I could devise if I knew what I was about. I
wondered what else I might have created already. I sat, covering my face
against my world.
No sooner had Fiona revealed my cleverness, in which she delighted
so, than she had taken it from me. A pat on the head, a kick in the
groin, and she was gone, taking my Ariel and leaving me in a shamble of
irony and ignorance lost. I knew that I should take the opportunity to
examine myself critically and learn who and what I was. My emotions were
too strong, however, and I felt myself slipping into an abyss of
deprecation and depression. I began to cling to the thought of Bacchante.
She could be my savior. Calm, rational, unmoved, distant; she could
perform the task which I should be about. I gathered my resolve to make
the switch, but as I scooped up one hand full of the stuff, another was
lost. I continued in this way for some uncounted time, before salvation
arrived in the form of an angel.
Ariel called to me from the doorway, concerned, but full of play.
She mocked my mood and cajoled me into consciousness. Still, I despaired,
until she sat beside me and dispelled my dark and paranoid thoughts.
Fiona had not come to steal, she said, but to assure that she could access
my power structure while visiting. Somehow, in observing the chaotic
actions of the bar below, I had given them the meaning which I discovered.
Unconsciously, I had forced reality into my image, reforging the rules of
the area, claiming and marking it as my own. Whether this circumstance
was unique or to be watched against in the future, I did not know.
Perhaps the magic had sought a molder, and had thus bent to my will as a
means to expressing its own. I was the first strong and intuitive caster
to arrive in this place. Perhaps there was an affinity of nature.
Whatever, I was salvaged from despair and, perhaps forgetting my purpose
of self-discovery, I embarked with my familiar on a course of utilizing my
link with this Plane to the immediate advantage of our mission. I wished
nothing more than to speed my reunion with Lyss, a perhaps understandable
We worked late into the night, Ariel and I, and well into the
morning as well. It was daylight before I was satisfied that we could cut
Cedric off from his power. What remained was a simple matter of combining
two known spells, a notion which had been in my mind since first creating
the Blood Mapping spell. That could wait until after I'd rested;
convinced of that, I lay contentedly down and slept deeply for an hour or
three. I awoke, refreshed if not restored, and went straight back to
work, after having more water sent up. I could operate on little sleep
when need be, and I was under an obvious and anxious haste to get this
I had laid the groundwork for saddling the teleport line to that
of the map, when Fiona knocked. She explained to me, with patronizing
patience, that I was wasting my time, because the Jewel was, of course,
immune to magic. The spell would work otherwise, retrieving Mirelle for
example, but that could wait, unlike the horses. I finished the spell en
route to Cedric's castle, Ariel holding on to my waist and being far too
chipper in general about the whole situation. My horsemanship is shoddy
enough without the mixed distractions of hanging a spell, covering twice
the distance that horses normally should, and the most beautiful woman in
the world pressed against my back, clutching my midsection. I tried to
put a certain ritual of claim out of my mind. Picking up the thought, and
not fully understanding its nature, Ariel thought to tease me with it,
moving her arms to mimic the positioning she read in my mind. I tensed,
sending a feeling of impropriety strong enough to cause her to withdraw
into her shell. I tried to reassure her, to tell her that she had done no
harm, that it wasn't her fault, but she was unresponsive to my thoughts.
I had work to do. I carried on.
I was ready, hours later, as we approached the cliff which
supported Cedric's almost delicate castle. I reflected that several of my
least favorite places were cliffs. I asked Fiona if we were close enough
to begin, and she agreed. I cast the baffle first, drawing on the ambient
magic. Once I'd cast a spell on this world, I had discovered, it no
longer required hanging. I had resolved to work out why not, back been my
familiar had been speaking to me. I wondered if she felt left out, what
with my throwing spells without her. I loosed the spell I'd hung on her
during the ride. I felt it release crisply, all business. I sighed. I
fell off my horse.
Rolling out of my Xeno cushion, I saw Mirelle punching my horse.
Pegging her as nuts, I backed off quickly. The others were a swirl around
me, charging into battle, loosing arrows, struggling with Mirelle. I
shook off the vertigo which the suddenness of it all had inspired, and
assessed the situation. Ariana was working on the Mirelle problem, Alex
was avoiding everyone and everything, most of the rest were beating on
Cedric's men, whose arrival I'd missed. Fiona was missing. Smoke rose
from her horse's saddle. I cursed myself for having lost my focus. Fiona
had been working on the assumption that I'd cut off Cedric from his magic.
On the chance that my failure had not proven fatal, I caught up on my
responsibilities. That done, I dropped a line to Fiona to make sure I
hadn't killed her. She strongly implied that I would be dealt with later,
and I chose to interpret that as everything was hunky-dory.
That settled, I headed for the castle, not having any other plans.
My Xeno was still up, so I had little concern for the army, but they had
fallen by the time I got that far, anyway. We all congregated on the
battle field, wondering what we were supposed to do next. Mirelle got on
everyone's nerves, so I sent her to the main hall. Everyone liked that
pretty much. Fiona arrived, looking like we'd better not discuss it, and
holding the collected fragments of the Jewel proudly. The only thing
preventing our immediate return to Amber was the absence of Laughter, who
had stayed at Tallefellow's because someone had to watch her kid, and
Foster had refused to breast feed him. Bypassing Ariel again, I used the
same spell that had brought Mirelle to bring mother and child to us. That
excuse expended, we more or less had to go home.
We were greeted in the main hall by several pages engaging Mirelle
in a surface game, although I had understood that the badger was usually
tethered first. I was considering sending her back to the Disc, since we
were safely removed from there, when a voice filled the hall with deep
"Enough!" was all that it spake, yet that word carried through our
spines an ancient tone, which sang here is one whom you will obey.
Mirelle stood quavering, and we all checked our posture, as Oberon, King
of the Pattern Realms, strode through his castle. I knew then that he
owned Amber in a way I would never possess a thing. This was his place,
created to suit him, and we were his as well, and existed by his leave
alone. I wondered if anyone could make him feel this way. He stalked our
party, appraising our worth with an indifferent glance. He smiled broadly
at the broken Jewel which Fiona held before her, a ward against
displeasure. She earned derision for her effort.
"I like what you've done to your hair," he commented, as he
reclaimed the gem.
With a scanty warning, he reunited the fragments of the Jewel and
was replaced with the form of my beloved Lyss. I hugged her fiercely,
and, after a startled moment, she squeezed the breath out of me. I would
not call this the happiest moment of my life, rather the most joyous. In
the instant of her arrival, all of my fears, all of my tension, all of my
turmoil, every last obstacle had been surmounted at once. It was a
ripping away of every blot which obscured my soul. All of my hopes and
desires condensed into one warm, responsive body.
The effect could not last, of course -- indeed it was to be
blighted all too rapidly -- but the emotion uplifted me to a height from
which even the greatest of falls would be as the slightest divot to the
course of a great flood.
We moved on to Llewella's house in Rebma -- Lyss, Ariel and I --
stopping briefly at the Discworld to send Mirelle and Usires back to
Amber. Our goal was but two-fold: reunite mother with child and be happy
with our own company. The first step was easily and touchingly
accomplished; I almost had thought that neither Darby nor Lyss would ever
unclutch the other, but of necessity they parted, though they remained
inseparable even while they slept that night. I found myself a touch
removed, not by this close relationship, but by the sad fact that I had
once again taken the form of a woman upon entering the waters of my birth.
Lyss, to her credit, as well as that of our affection, did not shun me,
nor seem uncomfortable in my presence, but it was clear that, while both
female, we were the best of friends, only. I accepted this readily, being
as understanding of her quirks as she had been of mine. I would not
pressure one whose comfort was my bread. But I escape my point.
The second imperative, to be all easy joy, proved not to be so
attainable, though I believe we succeeded well enough despite the court of
Kolvir. My mother we had found packing, and under some light questioning
it was revealed that she was destined to become the Lady Jesby, making me
legitimate at last. I was of mixed opinion of this news, being happy for
Constance's sake, though despairing for those of my parents, as well as
being somewhat alarmed for my own. Still, putting all of my family under
one roof made the demands of kinship easier to fulfill, and with Oberon
returned I had little reason to expect my fondness for Amber to grow to
measurable dimensions. My only regret was the loss of Rebma, but that
could be easily visited should the whim take me there. My only hope was
that those who had brought about my birth could conceive as well a love
Lyss and Ariel helped my mother pack -- she was to depart for
Chaos on the following afternoon -- while I did my best to cheer her mood,
telling her of the delightful possibilities of a Ways in Chaos. She, for
her part, succeeded in producing that aforementioned divot to my own lofty
spirit. This, then, was the impending and unstoppable death of Arthur, my
cousin, my prince, not by the hand of Ahab, as we had feared, but by
decree of the tyrant king. Unconscionably attached to this monstrous act
was the vile command that all attend to witness His Majesty's power over
life. It was to be taken as an object lesson, and the unspoken threat
clearly stated that to boycott it would be to learn it at the risk of
one's own neck. Still, I balked, horrified at the prospect of being even
an unwilling participant in so gruesome and terrible a spectacle. My
mother's anguished pleas, and the troubled countenances of my lover and my
familiar, at length persuaded me otherwise, and it was for their sake that
I resolved to answer the summons of Oberon, though no promise would escape
my lips to the effect of allowing the proceeding to pass unmolested.
The remainder of the day settled more into the projected pattern
of indolence and contentment, until finally we all felt the need to
retire, though be not means to entirely separate quarters. Lyss, as was
previously mentioned, curled up with her son to sleep away the first happy
night of the child's recent existence. Llewella and Gant had a somewhat
less innocent occupation in mind, though poignant in its own regard. For
myself, I stayed up for some time wrestling with a mild jealously, both of
Darby and of the nocturnal activities of others. I soon convinced myself
that there was much time in the future for Lyss and myself, and thus
dispelling my self-pity, I slept.
I awoke late on the following morning, my body having decided to
recover once and for all from the strains of the preceding days. Knowing
the horrors I would face that afternoon gave me little impetus for leaving
my bed, and I lay there quite comfortably for some time, my eyes wandering
over familiar objects, as if to plea for a static and safe existence. In
this end, they defeated themselves, and set me upon a course which would
threaten that very contentedness which I had so recently achieved. In
their aimless scan of my past preserved, the thoughtless orbs caught upon
the image of my terrarium, the neglect of which had covered it in slick
layers of algae. When quite young, I had obtained a rabbit from the
surface world, and had gleefully stuffed it within the pocket of air which
the cage defined. I had spent weeks watching the creature in wonder
before I had noticed its eyes. The quaking fear which they revealed to me
had left such an impression as to form my strong belief in the sanctity of
all life. I could not remove the animal to its natural environs after
having made such a fuss over my desire to possess one, and so it remained
in its cell, and I cared for its needs as best I could, until its tortured
heart at last gave out. I resolved at that time to never again allow any
creature to suffer merely to satisfy a whim.
All this I recalled as my eyes traced the dark growths on my
shrine to shame. I knew that I must attend the executions, and I knew
what I must do once there. Sitting up, I checked Ariel's inventory, and
found that I still had most of what I would need at the ready. I added to
her stock the Xeno which I would require, then began my day in earnest.
After eating with my mother and our guests, I Trumped to the main hall of
Kolvir, assuming my natural form once more. Ariel remained behind, having
formed a fast friendship with Lyss and not being required by me, as yet.
My request to speak with my prince did not meet with success, an
occurrence which did not so much surprise as annoy me. That failing, I
sought the Queen, my aunt, to be of what service as I could. Many else
had this identical notion, and so I mostly spent the time until the
executions in conversation with her other hangers on, mostly Vialle, when
I could manage.
Just before noon, I rejoined my family at the destined place. A
large block adorned a Spartan stage. I sat beside Llewella, Lyss taking
my other side and silently passing me the pearl which contained my
familiar. She and my mother seemed to exchange a glance, but I do not
recall whether I noticed it then or after. Anxiously, I cast the first
spell, which was to prevent Ahab's voice from reaching my ear. He was to
be the executioner, and I had something of an idea of his reaction to my
intervention. He stood on the stage near where rested an ax and a sword.
Oberon now arrived, and the crowd became more somber than before
in its stillness. The King himself seemed to swell at the prospect of the
afternoon. He looked our way, but I assumed he was gloating in Moire's
direction. The first prisoner was brought out. Sand. She whose life I
had spared with my own as shield. I could not save her this day; I had
but one hand to play, and it could not be expended until Arthur's turn
came. Ahab raised the ax, his lips moved savagely. Ashamed, I turned
away. The ax fell, a sickening sound. There followed a softer sound, of
something fallen to earth. I wanted to cry out against this inhuman
display of contempt, but I sat still, craven to the core with everyone
else. Tears of frustration and self-loathing dropped into my lap.
I couldn't, I told myself. There was nothing I could have done.
The denial rose within me, but it tasted of bilious lie, and I choked it
down. It was time for Dalt.
Dalt was better, faceless, just another death. I had known of
him, but we had never met. He had raised sword and torch against the
Unicorn. I held onto that, even as I knew that, of them all, he had the
most cause for hatred. The sword fell. He died. My tears were already
spent. I risked a look around and caught glimpses. Oberon, smiling in
satisfaction; he'd never given love, but he took life well enough. Lyss,
uncomfortable. Aware that her father was the instrument which allowed
this to happen, unwilling to hate him even for that. Moire, absent.
I searched for her face, but it was not within the arena. My
heart went with her, wherever she had gone, but I had to stay for a few
moments longer. I wondered how I was going to leave when I had done.
Ariel had no teleports to offer. It was too late now. I resolved to
start thinking things all the way through, should I manage to survive
Ahab laid the sword aside, once again taking up the goried ax. My
eyes fixed on it, marking every rivulet of blood, every smear, the tiny
pieces of flesh and hair which stuck to the blade. I followed its
progress upward, even as it became lost to the sun's fierce glare,
readying myself for what I must do. The ax reached its zenith. My breath
caught in my throat. My lips formed the first syllable in the lynchpin.
I felt a touch from either side, flesh brushing against my own.
The command froze me, not from terrible authority, for it
contained none of that, but from the compassionate plea which wavered in
its tones. This was Moire's voice, and she stood now before the tyrant's
throne. She offered up her own life in the place of her son's, and I
remained motionless. Oberon accepted her life and made her his queen, and
still I sat immobile. The prisoner was freed to be king of Rebma, and the
stage was cleared, and the audience departed silently, and my lips yet
framed their fateful words.
I felt my mother's hand on my leg, and I suddenly understood.
There are things that we all have to do. Ahab had to try to kill Arthur.
I had to try to prevent him. It was Moire, though, who had to actually
stop it; her child was her responsibility. As I was my mother's.
Llewella had to stop me from destroying myself. She would have brought
Lyss and even Ariel against me to do this. My familiar would have
received instructions to resist my command, and because she's intelligent,
and cares about me, she would have held back the Xeno. Lyss and Llewella
both touched me as the ax rose; they would have stopped me, there's no
question. I shook, beyond controlling. It was something I had to do.
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