Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 58

Grandmaster Radiance of the Tower stared before him.  "I do not trust her," he said softly, the words issuing faintly from his dead, desiccated lips.

"It is good that I do not ask you to trust her, then," said the flickering darkness of Sutekh before him.  "She is to be used, until she is used up."  The inky black shadow seemed to actually contort in something close to amusement at that.  "Is this acceptable to you?"

The Grandmaster found himself wishing his mouth was capable of frowning.  "It is your design.  I am but a humble participant in it."  He briefly imagined himself to be sweating, even though he knew that was impossible.

"Oh, quite," said Sutekh.  "We have need of her.  The Prince... the Prince is all but used up."

"I feel no such thing," said Grandmaster Radiance.  "His soul still flares brightly when I see it..."

"Brightly, yes," came the dark voice of Sutekh.  "Like a fire in the rain, flaring up erratically, even as it is extinguished.  He is breaking, and even if survives the breaking, what remains will be of no more use to us.  But the Dev... she avoids all true damage, by refusing to acknowledge truth.  Her little soul is just what we have need of.  For now."  There was a silence.  "Do not worry yourself overmuch.  She will be my concern for the immediate future.  Stay focussed on the war.  There is blood to be spilled."

"Of course, King Sutekh."  The Grandmaster considered matters.  "It is good the Medb no longer bothers us."

"Agreed.  Her ambitions served us for a time," said Sutekh, quietly, "but always, always she saw herself as a player, not a piece.  And that always lead to her trying to play us.  We cannot have such allies, can we, Pearl?"

"Of course not, Onyx," said Grandmaster Radiance, even as he wondered if this was the ancient King suggesting that the Grandmaster was just such an ally.  He couldn't be sure, and finally gave up.  He would simply have to act as if the King suspected and hope that this suspicion wasn't enough to prevent his ultimate goal from his grasp.

He had not given up all to fail at this, the only service to the Light he was truly capable of. 

He simply couldn't.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 57

Nisrioch pulled the sheet over Armida's head, and sighed.  "Did she ever seem to... come to...?" asked Mansemat quietly.

Nisrioch shook his head.  "I was hoping to talk to her one last time.  We were quite fond of each other, you know.  Despite all the... problems."

Mansemat stared at his brother for a moment.  "That is one way of putting it."

"Do you know that Nerghal actually suggested an arranged marriage between the pair of us as a peace settlement?" continued Nisrioch cheerfully. "Of course, Father was winning by that point, so it never really had a chance..."

"That's very nice, Nissy," said Mansemat with a sigh.  "You... do realize I'm going to have to ask you to leave for awhile, correct?"

Nisrioch shut his eyes and took a deep breath.  "I... the idea had occurred to me, yes."  He bit his lip then looked at his brother hopefully.  "I was hoping it was simply a strange idle notion that..."

Mansemat regarded him calmly.  "Nissy, you allowed an enemy of our family to operate right next to us, in the view of some... unthinkable endgame..."

"There are things at stake here that you..." began Nisrioch.

"That I don't understand," said Mansemat.  "Yes, I know.  I have heard it often enough, Nisrioch.  It is getting... tiresome.  That's why I am asking you to leave.  Because I simply don't trust you right now.  And if I have to see you here constantly, I will likely lose my temper."  He took a deep breath.  "The endless schemes... the plots within plots... I don't care if it's for my benefit or not.  It's just gotten... exhausting from where I stand."

Nisrioch stood there silently for a moment, and then glanced at Armida's body.  "Promise me you'll bury her here.  In the family tomb.  She tried all her life to come back home.  I thought that in..."  Mansemat nodded.  "Very well.  I will... get some things, and... head out."

Mansemat regarded Armida's body as his brother left.  "It won't be... forever, Nissy.  Just... long enough for me to forgive you."

"I know," said Nisrioch, as he left the chamber.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 56

Morgaine shook her head as she walked through the groaning halls, where the sound of stone moving against stone echoed.  "So... what was the point of all that?" she muttered.

Elaine glanced at her aunt.  "We faced an attack.  Seems self-explanatory to me."

"Yeah, but..."  Morgaine sighed.  "What did Armida think?  She'd kill us all, and then just... take our place?  That after promising the Magnates Lady knows what, they'd smile and nod when she told them 'Heh!  Just kidding!', and that would be that?  I mean... her own father is dead--or more dead, anyway, and all for what?" 

Elaine frowned.  "I... look, will you accept the take of a young woman who, even if she hasn't experienced all that much, reads a lot of novels?"

"Would I be asking if I wasn't willing to?" replied Morgaine quietly.

"I think she just lost track of things," said Elaine.  "I think at some point, getting to say she'd won became the point, and everything else she said was just something she said to get there."  She raised her hand before Morgaine.  "Whoa... I am feeling a shifting under my feet..."

Morgaine paused, and looked ahead.  The hallway before them twisted around, inverting what had been the ceiling, and the floor.  Morgaine shuddered.  "You know, I've been used to this place for  years.  And now--now I'm going to have to do that all over again.  Because of things like that."

"I'm sure it will stop eventually," said Elaine.

"Really?" asked Morgaine.

She shook her head.  "No, I'm just trying to give you hope."

The Dark Lord sighed.  "Figured," she said.  "I have to say, you've come a long way from when we first met."

"Well, thanks..." began Elaine.

"I mean, even if you are still mostly an annoying kid, you have moments of being less annoying now," continued Morgaine.

Elaine frowned. "I should have learned to expect that from you, shouldn't I?"

Morgaine's eyes raised in surprise. "You're just now figuring that out?" she noted.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 55

The clouds and wind that had surrounded Castle Terribel over most of the night were breaking up.  Erich noted his lantern had begun to sputter, and so lit another match, quietly vowing to make the Thing reimburse them for them all in the near future.   "Who goes there?" came a familiar voice as he fiddled with it.

"Me," said Erich.  He gave a nod as the lantern's light blazed bright again, then turned to his fellow.  "Now, shall I ask you the same question, Gunther?"

The old Mountain Erl shook his head.  "No need to bite my head off, Erich."

"Is that another joke on my Ghoulish heritage?" muttered Erich.  "Because I should remind you, I was born here, not in the Waste and..."

Gunther sighed.  "Consider it completely unintentional.  Brought on by this strange night."  He shook his head.  "Fires, death, and strange weather.  Something is up, even though we'll probably never know the half of it."

Erich shrugged.  "You speak as if that's odd.  We're involved in a war over the river, allied with people we usually fight, helping them with people that are usually helping them, and I'll be damned if I can keep any of it straight."  He glanced at the older man.  "Is it Montalban or Monfort that was  under siege?  I can't keep it clear."

"Bad business," said Gunther.  "Bad business.  I love Lord Mansemat dearly, but he should recall what happened to his father when he went over the River.  Not a Cthonique yet has had it go well fighting over there."

Erich gave a nod. "True, true.  Still, it's gone well so far..."

"Has it?" asked Gunther.  "This has happened, after all."

The Ghoul raised an eyebrow.  "Are you seriously suggesting that this strange weather was somehow connected to the war?"

"Well, it followed it didn't it?" asked Gunther.

Erich considered a reply to that, and decided that it was best to remain silent.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 54

Viviane glanced at her brother-in-law.  "So... what just happened?"

Nisrioch shut his eyes.  "Something ended."

Morgaine glanced at her brother from her position on the floor.  "That sounded... vague and unhelpful."

"The ways twist and turn on me," muttered Nisrioch. "I see, and then I see naught.  My apologies."

"That was even more vague and unhelpful," said Morgaine.  "But I hurt all over, so I'll leave it at that."

Jean nodded.  "Yeah."  She glared at their prisoners.  "It was bad enough fighting these yahoos the first time.  A second..."

"Hey," said Leucippe, "it wasn't exactly all roses and moonshine for us."

"Speak for yourself," declared Arsinoe brightly.  "I had a lovely time.  You are all wonderful people, and it has been a pleasure and an honor to do battle with you."

Jean looked at the young witch and then turned to Leucippe.  "She has problems doesn't she?"

Leucippe threw her head back.  "You can imagine growing up with her," she muttered.

"Please don't make my head hurt," said Semele.  "At least, not anymore..."

Footsteps echoed down the hall.  The little group turned to see Mansemat walking towards them, carrying Armida in his arms. Viviane smiled at him.  "So, you did it."

Mansemat managed slow nod, and then glanced around.  "We need to get her to some place with a bed.  I fear she is... dying."

Nisrioch glanced at his dying cousin and nodded.  "I believe that there is one not too far from here."

Jean glanced at the other witches.  "What about these guys?"

Mansemat turned to follow his brother wearily.  "Let them go.  There's been too much killing this night."

"After what they've done?" asked Viviane raising her eyebrow.

"Yes," answered her husband.  "Because I think they'll realize what will happen if they try it again.  And that is a message that I want people to hear."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 53

In a small alley, leagues away from Castle Terribel, Falerina was having a sick. 

"Stupid potatoes!" she muttered to herself, and then immediately wished she hadn't as this made her think about what she had just forced out of her.  Which made her... force out a little more.  And then a little more after that.

When she was finally finished, she wiped her mouth with her sleeve.  "Why won't they stay in my belly?" she whined plaintively.  Falerina flopped on the ground.  "I'm so hungry!"

Poor, poor child,
came a whispered voice.  All alone.

The Dev looked around furtively.  "Who's talking?  Please make yourself not invisible. If you can."  She coughed. "I have had very bad experiences with people I can't see who talk to me and turn out not to exist."  She bit her lip. "It was very embarrassing."

You know who I am,
said the whisper. We've talked before, when you sat in the Pendant...
Falerina considered things.  "Hmm, is that... is that Onyx? You have the same dust in your throat voice..."

Indeed.  Very clever of you.  Very clever.

"Why thank you," said Falerina brightly.  "That's--"  She frowned.  "Wait, you tried to kill me.  More or less."

Ahh, that was only a clever plan.  To fool that witch who just also tried to kill you now.  We never really meant you to die.

"Oh, that makes sense," said Falerina.  "I mean, why would anyone really want me to die?  I'm too wonderful." 

Yes, wonderful and clever, and oh, so useful.  You could be so useful to me. 

Falerina gulped.  "Really?" she said, the hope obvious in her voice.

Oh, yes.  And all you'll have to do is head south, and come to a place where we can... talk.  More freely than here, at least...

"Ooooh, I can do that!" said Falerina with a nod.  "I'm very good at going to places."

Yes, I thought you would be.  You seem to be the type. So let us discuss this further, my dear...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 52

Rhea shuddered as she glanced out the window.  "Nasty wind out there," she muttered quietly.

Porone Belltower poked the fire idly, and looked at the bubbling pot before him with a satisfied eye.  "Well, we'll soon have this cider warmed," he said cheerily.  "We may not be able to stop the wind, but we can warm ourselves up..."  He paused and looked at the girl.  "You... can't stop the wind, can you?"

"I might be able to, but someone would notice," she said.  "Mother always stressed that.  Always be careful.  Practice, but never use your powers in such away as to be... obvious.  Because then, then they'd find us.  And it would all be for nothing."

Porone stared at her a moment, then  ladled out a cup of cider.  "Here," he said offering it to her.  "I feel you need this more than I do."

She looked at the cup a moment, then grasped it with both hands.  She raised it to her lips, then froze.  There was a sudden shudder, and then the cup was dashed to the floor. 

Porone stared at the girl contorting before him, apparently in the grip of some horrific seizure. He wondered what to do.  He had little experience in these matters.  Oh, there was a Belltower cousin with the affliction, but he was a distant relative, kept in the deep cellars of the tower, out of the sight of most of his kin.  Porone knew of him only by rumor, really.  As were how one handled such matters.  He'd heard something about spoons, he believed, but he wasn't sure...

"Miss, are you all right?" he asked, mentally kicking himself for asking something he so clearly knew the answer to.

"Yes," she answered weakly.  She rose unsteadily and returned to her seat by the window.  "I... I'm sorry about spilling the drink."

"Forget about it," said Porone, preparing another cup.  "Here... have this one..."  She looked at him and gave a thankful nod.  "Miss... your... your eyes..."

"Do not worry," she muttered.  Rhea shut the eye that had changed to a murky green.  "It is... a family... thing."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 51

Eurydice shook her head furiously as she stared at twisting walls.  "Oh, the work that is going to be needed after this... fiasco."

"I don't care," said Echidnae.  "I'll be on vacation.  A long, long vacation."  She smiled blissfully.  "And I will sleep long into the morning during it.  In comfy beds.  With thick blankets."  The young Erl gave a delighted shudder.  "Oh, it will be so grand!"

Eurydice glanced away, scowling.  "Grand for you, lazybones."

"Yes," agreed Echidnae.  "Grand for me."

Antea smiled.  "I am so pleased for you, Miss Bluebell.  It is mete and fitting that such loyal service as yours be rewarded." She turned to Eurydice.  "As yours will be as well, Miss le Fidele.  Why, if you should desire a vacation for yourself..."

Eurydice's eyes went wide.  "Never suggest that to me again, Madame Antea."  She leaned towards the taller Erl, standing on her tiptoes.  "NEVER!"  She backed away and coughed awkwardly.  "Is that clear?" She coughed again. "Ma'am?"

"Oh, yes," said Antea pleasantly.  "Perfectly.  Please understand that the offer was kindly and pleasantly meant."

Eurydice nodded grimly.  "Of course.  Understand, no insult was meant, but that cut close to..."

"I am fine," said Antea.  "All is fine.  Well, aside from the mad attempt to seize the Castle by my first cousin, twice removed.  Which should resolve shortly.  One way or another."

Echidnae turned to Antea.  "Do... who do you think will win?"

Antea smiled brightly.  "Who do you think?" she asked.  A strange tinkling sound filled the air, as if a delicate set of bells was being rung.  "Ahh, here it comes..."  A bright golden light rushed through the hall and then faded out.  Antea nodded.  "There.  I think it is done.  Perhaps."

Eurydice stared at her.  "You... don't know?"

"Oh, no," answered Antea.  "I never learnt about this sort of thing.  I am simply guessing."  She nodded.  "I'm very good at guessing things."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 50

Armida smiled, preparing her lash.  "So... I suppose we battle now?"  A dark chuckle left her lips.  "I taught your kin the futility of that..."

"We are kin, Armida," whispered Mansemat.  "And no, there is no need.  We will simply let the Castle decide."  He gestured to the spindle, where even now his blood crept up, overtaking hers.

"That is it?" muttered Armida with a snort.  "You will lose.  You will lose because you are thief.  A thief and the son of a thief.  Nothing more."

"I am the Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread," said Mansemat.  "I am the People's Slave.  What are you, Armida?  The woman who spent years creating a failed idea of her father's.  The woman whose weapons are schemes within schemes within schemes.  The woman who betrays somebody with each move she makes.  The woman who killed her own..."

Armida's nostrils flared.  "He was already dead."  She looked away.  "It wasn't even him.  Just pieces of him.  And... he might come back.  In time."

"How very nice," said Mansemat.  "And completely irrelevant."  He crossed his arms.  "Why should you rule, Armida, and not me?  Give me an answer."

"Why?  Because I was born to this!" she shouted.

Mansemat shrugged. "And?  The entire story of our line tells us that birth alone counts for little."

"Spoken like the interloper you are.  The benefactor of your father's cruelty..." Armida snarled.

Mansemat took a deep breath. "Lady, do not talk to me of my father's cruelty as if it were something I never got a chance to know.  Every person in this room--in this castle--in this land--was a victim of that man."

Armida pointed at him.  "What a convenient thing to tell yourself!  I've no doubt there's a smidgen of truth in it, and that it allows you to utterly ignore my righteous vengeance..."

"I would not even dignify this as vengeance, Armida," said Mansemat.  "So far as I can tell, this is merely habit.  You are hollow thing now, Armida.  Whatever purpose this might have served you once, it is now its own purpose.  I suspect if you won, there would be a brief moment of emptiness, and then you would find more plots to occupy yourself."

Armida glanced away.  "If you imagine these... childish accusations..."

Elaine coughed.  "Ummm, guys... magic spindle... doing something..."

The two Cthoniques turned and regarded it, even as it momentarily vanished in the bright golden glow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 49

"Blood shall be the means of the proving," declared the wheezy voice.  "It is through blood we measure the heart..."

Elaine glanced at Mansemat.  "So... is that Assur talking?"

"Most likely," said Mansemat.  He coughed.  "Well... in a sense, anyway.  This is probably modeled after his voice, just as the statue of him in the foyer is modeled after his form.  Even if it isn't really him standing before us then."

"Right, right, right, not going to dwell on the technicalities," muttered Elaine with a nod.  "He sounds a lot... higher-pitched then I imagined," she noted. 

Mansemat looked around, and then leaned towards his stepdaughter.  "Lots of folks from back then do, I've noticed.  It just seems to be how they spoke back then.  For some... strange reason."  He gave another furtive glance.  "It might be the weight, in his case," he whispered.

"The past is always weird," said Elaine.  She sighed.  "Not that the present is better, mind you, but..."

A great rushing wind filled the chamber, and Armida Cthonique floated down before the pair.  "Well, cousin, I see you've also decided to put yourself to the test.  To steal all this from me."

Elaine snorted.  "That's... kind of ironic, coming from you."

Armida snarled at that.  "You du Lacs keep... speaking as if you know anything about this matter.  I was born here.  My father recognized me as his heir."  She pointed at Mansemat. "And then your father stole it all."

Mansemat shut his eyes.  "We could play the game of calling each other thieves for hours, if we wished.  It would be pointless.  You put matters before the Chamber.  I have followed your example.  And that's how things shall stand."

Armida smiled.  "You imagine you understand what this involves.  Amusing."  She glanced around the room.  "Where's your little invisibility charm?"

"My niece went elsewhere," said Mansemat, hand on Murgleys, "with the servants you tried to kill.  Including the one who lead me here.  And that's all I am going to say on this."

Armida glanced at Elaine contemptuously.  "And your little... stepdaughter."

"Refused to leave," answered Elaine.  "I've got a magic sword.  Figure its worth something in this situation."

Armida shook her head and sighed.  "I am going to enjoy... being rid of you all."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 48

The Medb kept her eyes fixed on Nisrioch.  "You seem very confident as you say that."

"As I told you, I See things," noted the half-demon.  "Including your defeat."

Armida stared a moment, and then laughed. "Of course.  I should have seen it.  You are plotting something, Nisrioch.  After all, it's what you always do." 

"Oh, I am not plotting anything at the moment," said Nisrioch.  "It's all finished.  You've all but lost, Armida."

She snickered at that.  "If this... pathetic attempt at a bluff is all you have then..."  She stiffened.  "No.  You... you bastard..."

"True," said Nisrioch.  "I've still helped beat you."

"All a..." muttered Armida.

"I believe you were trying something similar," noted Nisrioch.  "Of course, you lacked certain assets that were available to me..."

"A child snapped," snapped Armida.  "I... She's your daughter, isn't she?  Your own daughter..."

"You forced my hand," said Nisrioch. 

"Ah HA!" shouted Morgaine as she leapt at Armida.  The witch casually flung her away. 

"And you have forced mine," muttered Armida as she grew insubstantial and went through the floor.

Morgaine glanced at her brother, frowning.  "Well, that was humiliating."

"You really shouldn't announce surprise attacks," said Nisrioch.  "It dulls their effectiveness."  He waved his hand, a shimmering glowing wall appearing before him.  A greenish bolt of energy struck it and was deflected.

Arsinoe frowned as Semele readied another attack. "Ahhh.  And we actually followed your advice."

Jean rolled her eyes.  "Great.  A rematch."

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 47

Jean stared at the woman looming before her.  Perhaps it was unjust of her, but she was finding Armida's smirk increasingly irritating.  Armida dangled her whip in her hands, her mismatched eyes peering at the younger witch.  "Right," muttered Jean.  "Not much hope of you agreeing to some sort of truce in the name of... witchy solidarity?"

"Didn't stop you from attacking mine, did it?" said Armida.  She gave a shrug.  "The old courts never did get along, really.  Such a shame.  All that power, and we used it against ourselves so long, until eventually, there were almost none of us left..."

"Which somehow lead to you doing the same thing centuries later," muttered Viviane.

"Well, you more or less forced it on me, didn't you?" said Armida.  "Still--I will try to be sparing.  And if worse comes to worse... well, look around you."  She gestured to the women under the du Lac's bonds.  "From bits and pieces I've built new lines, and new powers, creating a new court for myself.  While you have barely managed to keep the one you had together."

"Hey," snapped Viviane.  "I had a lot on my plate!"

"And I didn't?" noted Armida.  "You weren't the only one who had Shaddad hunting for you.  In fact he was at it quite a bit longer in my case.  And yet, as I said..."

"Yes, yes, you've trained your own little witch society, and used them to make money while you were at it," snapped Jean.  "Great for you.  You're an inspiration for us all."

Armida chuckled.  "Such bitterness.  I am surprised."

"I'm just really sick of hearing you explain how great you are," muttered Jean.  She glanced at Nisrioch.  "Please tell me you're going to kick her ass soon."

Nisrioch shrugged.  "I'm not."  His former apprentice stared at him in dull amazement.  "She holds all advantages at the moment.  I've Seen our battles.  They do not go well for me."

Armida smiled.  "I'm glad to see one of you has accepted the inevitable."

Nisrioch smiled back her.  "You make two false assumptions, Armida.  I have not accepted anything, and you are far from inevitable."  He shrugged.  "Honestly, you are one of the most evitable individuals I've ever met.  And I've met many evitable people."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 46

Armida regarded the small group before her with a weary contempt.  "So, have I shocked you all into silence?  I must say, this is all rather disappointing.  The pathetic remnants of House du Lac, my mad ex-lover, and a corpse that doesn't know how to stay dead."

Morgaine rose from the floor, staggering.  "Ha!  This corpse will show..."

Armida flung against the wall again.  "Learned your lesson yet?"

"Oh, yes," muttered Morgaine, glaring at her.  "I' learning that I beyond a doubt want to kick your ass for.. whatever you did to Nerghal.  And I had issues with Nerghal."

Armida frowned at that.  "If it comforts you, think of it as sending him someplace... far away.  Where he can rest."

"Didn't believe that when Breus told me that was what happened to my cat," muttered Morgaine as she got to her feet again.

"That is your choice," answered Armida with a yawn.  She chuckled at Viviane and Jean.  "Have I so put the fear in you that the Badb and the Nemain are quivering in terror of me?  That would be a grand accomplishment."

"Oh, no," said Viviane, quietly.  "True, I've been thinking about flattening you for some time, but my little sister has taught me the value of sometimes holding back on these things. So, while you've been hurtling the one person here who can best handle being thrown against the walls, Jean and I have been watching how you do it."

Jean nodded, leaning forward.  "Yep.  See, that crazy ex-lover of yours standing over there taught me how to get a good idea of how to do things like that.  And honestly, no matter what power Castle Terribel is pumping you with at the moment--she's the Queen of the Old Magic, and I'm her heir.  So... your advantage isn't as much as you imagine."  She passed her hands together, a ball of wind forming in them.  "As we're going to show you."

"With great pleasure," added Viviane as fire gathered at the tip of her pestle.  She hurled a ball of flame at Armida, as Jean released a gust of wind.

Armida suddenly tugged the thin length of cord around her arm free, the strand turning into a whip as she did so.   With a single crack of it, she held back the du Lac sisters' attacks, and then chuckled.  As the pair stared at her, she gave a bow.  "The Queen of the Graves greets her sisters of Sea and Sky."

Viviane gulped.  "That... There hasn't been a Medb in centuries..."

Armida shook her head.  "You seem to make a habit of being wrong, Badb.  It's... rather disappointing.  And irritating."