So I went to see Trajan. No I don’t know how I got there, Fliggett took me. And we just walked into a ball of magic, and suddenly we were there. I demanded to see the creature that they captured. whom I found out was a dark elf. That’s right, I went to an interview a dark elf assassin, the one who tried to kill me. So that’s what a drow is! Don’t judge me, I don’t read fantasy. At all.
What I saw needed to be explained. Really wish Phil had that Russian chess playing bear. Then I’d have practice for this sort of thing.+
I hadn’t expected for them to grant my request. But they did and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Wouldn’t you know, they kept her in a shed. Really nice accommodation compared to that burned out basement, but still not overly heavy on amenities. IT was more like a dungeon than made me comfortable, but isn’t that what all prisons ultimately are?
Fliggett came in with me, and stood guard as I sat across the wooden plank from her. She was chained to the chair, and some kind of force field wavered around her like air bound glitter. She growled at me, but subsided when I showed her the clay ornament.
“What did you do to the queen?” I asked.
“That’s no queen. That was a spoiled child,” she spat.
“She had royal blood. What did you do to her?” I asked.
“You won’t believe me.” She hissed back.
“I don’t know what to believe.” I said angrily.
“Fine. I tried to save her,” she…snarled.
“What?” I asked, baffled.
“See, you don’t believe me. Drack is after her for some reason. Possibly for no good. The Arcadians do not know what we know. They want to expand, to make this theirs. That would be… disastrous. I tried to get her out of there, but they found me. They took her blood to some purpose. I did my best to get her out of the way. If she isn’t found that’s because she knows what’s good for her,” she breathed. Her voice cracked.
“Where is she now?”
“I don’t know. She got away from me, as well as them. Wish her luck,” she said, her voice small.
“Who is Drack?” I asked.
“He’s the Winter King of Arcadia. I serve the Night Court of Cerese, which is technically in his command. I am an oath breaker. Which is why I am safer here.” she whispered.
“Then why are you trying to kill me?” I asked.
“I am not, nor ever was.” the creature said.
“To warn you. To prepare you. Your father is back. You must be ready for him,” she muttered.
I lurched back, as if slapped. I rubbed my face, trying to hold back tears. The words she spoke scalded me. I turned back to her.
“Do you work for him? Does he work for you?” I asked savagely.
“Your father is a cancer. He works for no one. Perhaps he works for himself. He has carved out his own place, his own people. And they are hollow and broken shells of what was once good.” Her voice was pure and prophetic.
“How can you know what is good?” I asked.
“Summer and winter are opponents, not opposites. Each has their dominion and place.” She paused. “Evil… is a different thing. A real thing, none the less. They are as different as sleep is from death, as dreaming is from waking. There are angels of both night and day, just as there is the noon day devil and the midnight devil.”
“Where does he stand?” I asked.
“Your father’s alliances lie outside of the natural order.” She whispered.
“Supernatural? What? Ghosts? Djins? Demons? Does he walk between worlds like Dante?”
“Not to confuse you still further, but I am a part of the natural order. The old magics are as well.”
“Wouldn’t angels and demons be, as well?”
“No. They stand outside, looking in. They are among us, but not like us. Hence why they are called ‘supernatural’. She rolled her eyes.”
“So, what about wizards?” I asked, just to get her point of view.
“They can choose,” she said, voice cold.
“Now I’m really confused,” I admitted.
The creature rolled her eyes. “This is not Autumn vs Winter, or Winter vs Summer. This is nature vs the unnatural. This is an invasion from without. This is the elders in revolt, claiming to be gods. This is a rebellion against the First Rule. The old treaties and hatreds are null in the face of this threat. I do what I must, because this is what winter is FOR. To cut off what grows past it’s season. Summer is to tend the good. Fall is harvest, feeding and death. Spring is growth. But each of these things grows monstrous if allowed to move past it’s place.”
“You use the term monstrous.” I said, incredulous.
“Yes. In a sense, you are more of a monster than I. Being outside of what you once were.”
Her voice was almost apologetic.
“So, what am I? What did you turn me into?” I asked.
She eyed me, lips pursed. “You.. Are finally asking the right questions.”
I tapped my foot.
“You know the knights of old? The important thing to understand about a knight is that he was once an ordinary man. They did not start out as nobility. But through the ancient rights, they are imbued with the power of royalty to execute noble decree. Generally to a purpose. The fools ruined the system by making it hereditary, when knighthood should be enforced by virtue of meritocracy. That was how it was intended.”
“But my Aunt…”
“That is magic of blood and soil. It gave her responsibility and privilege, but not abilities beyond the borders of the place she calls home. Her power came to be because her land gave her that power, once her place was recognized in the natural order. So she is a duchess in her dutchy, acknowledged elsewhere, but not empowered outside of it. I have imbued you with the power of a knight, which may act anywhere. Here— or in the breach of Arcadia itself.” She said.
“Then, why did you attack me?” I asked warily. “A single conversation would have simplified this greatly.”
“To see what you could do. You were frightfully unprepared, and I wanted you to be on your guard. We and the Summer court handle things…rather differently. Also, if I had come in peace… things would have been more complicated for me. It turns out… that the troubles I’d hoped to avoid… came to pass regardless.” She seemed to be having trouble speaking. I glanced at my gnomish companion, who only shrugged at me and flipped on his magic helmet. A certain animated opera started running through my head… Great. All I need is a magic spear and a singing bunny rabbit.
“So why did this thing try to kill me?” I asked.
I thumped my chest. A throbbing pain caused me to wince.
She squinted at me. “Did you allow it to complete it’s work?” she asked.
“They said I’d become than eternal living ice sculpture. That didn’t appeal to me. I like warm rooms and hot cocoa too much let that happen.”
“You need to get the wand back. Once it’s done it’s work you will understand,” she said.
“The wizard didn’t think it was a good idea,” I replied
“He wouldn’t. Wizards don’t like competition,” she growled.
I sensed there was something she wasn’t telling me. Yeah, I’m such a genius.
“So what else?” I asked.
“The labrynth. Even as you are, you can walk the Ice and Bone labyrinth. With the wand in hand. Then you will understand.”
I looked over and the gnome had actually lost his hat in incredulity. His eyes were wide and his face was flushed. “That’s madness! No breathing mortal can…”
“But she already has. It was a short trod betwixt the two lands of her blood, but that is more than even her sibs can do.”
“That is not the same thing!” he shouted.
“But they are woven from a similar weave, you must admit. Flesh tends to wither at the touch of a trod, unless it is bound in glamor first.”
“Well, there was that ornament. That might have had some sort of glamour.” I said weakly. I was starting to feel dizzy again.
The creature rolled her eyes. “Only a guardian spirit or a body of light could have protected you. You had neither. You had not just traversed the present, but I saw you in the past. But not when I was there, I remembered it a few minutes ago. That is a sign of the touch of a twist of the true labrynth. Which has four sections. The ice and bone labyrinth only covers half the year. You need to balance it with the wand of summer and fall.”
“They said that mixing winter and spring was…dangerous. The wizard accused you of supporting what you decry.” I said.
“IF it had been fall and winter, you would have simply aged and died. Spring was necessary to give you the life and youth to survive an infusion of winter. Did the wizard tell you that?” she asked hotly.
I blinked, and looked at the gnome again. He shrugged. “I was only an apprentice, and a young one at that.” He said, retrieving his hat. I noted with relief that there were others in the wings guarding us. The dark elf looked annoyed.
“You haven’t yet learned what you are up against. I will not willingly escape— or harm any of you. I cannot trust my own allies. But I must find those of my traditional opponents that I can trust,” she said softly. I had the impression that the others present did not hear her last sentence. Something about the words was…different. Like I heard them in my head, not with my ears. I looked at her. She smiled back.
“Why? Why did you do this? Why me?” I asked.
“That is a serious question. Because— your only loyalty is to your Aunt and her land. Should the crowned heads of Arcadia demand obedience, you can laugh at them and defend your lands— regardless of politics, regardless of blood. You are allied with the summer courts, but you are not vassals or slaves. I cannot do that. Neither can your gnomes. A wizard might, but they are seduced by great power— whatever the source.” She turned to the gnome, who was about to say something.
“ It is true humans are often seduced by power,” she turned back to me. “I judged you to be more likely to laugh at it, and see it for what it is.”
“The wizard actually said he thought your intentions were different than the results. He thought your partner in doing this betrayed you, and intended that both of us should die in the culmination of what that wand turned out to be,” I blurted, feeling like a moron. Hopefully, I didn’t give the whole game away to people who weren’t exactly our friends.
The dark elf looked disturbed. It was the first time I saw her look vulnerable. She pondered that for a moment, face hardening.
“If it were tampered with, it was not the original artist who crafted my wand. I know him better than I know myself— and he would not do this. But I do not know who could have done this. My wonder-worker has an idiosyncratic style that would be hard to…hack.” The last she spat like an alien word.
The gnome looked shrewd. “Does he have any half-baked relatives?” he asked.
Her eyes flew open. “I did not think…” she paused. Her face drained of it’s blue tinge and became even paler.
“But… she’s dead…” she gasped.
The gnome copped a pose and channeled me. “Well, if warping nature out of it’s natural shape is fair game, what’s wrong with a little cheating death among friends?” he said, a bit heavy on the sarcasm.
“If so, that means they are further along than I thought. You must get to the Labyrinth. Not the little trod you found, but Labyrinth of Years. You must walk it. You are the only one who can, without interference. It is the only way you will find the new Queen.”
I sighed. “NOW you tell me.”