The fifth and sixtieth year of the Reign of the House of Wroan,
when the time of Man and Fey differed only by ten times.
The year of man 1837
“Mother, can he be destroyed?”
“I thought I did!” Shahavaw shouted. She tried in vain to temper the sudden onslaught of memories. But they came, unrelenting. Masveh clung to her tightly and asked again, mind to mind, and in that shared moment she again saw through her eyes.
What she saw, explained how her mother had come to know all those things. And she experienced with her the blast of pure denigration, the flood of blasphemy and filth that finally splintered the weakened psyche of her Queen. It almost overwhelmed her daughter too, but Anora and Ynaskein held her up. From within, they poured their strength into her, holding the darkness at bay.
“I tried,” Shahavaw moaned. “The champion hunted him down. He realized that Diderici had melded himself with Ikal, and he pierced through that spell with iron. But he did not understand the nature of that which he fought. He guessed that the electric song of the heavens could overpower the song that coursed through the man’s body, and so he brought down its fire onto Diderici.
“It would have worked, but the Moon was up. And the creature that he had seen step out of space once before his eyes, did so one more time. With a roared curse, Diderici left his flesh behind and soared across the distance to his temple above. I saw him, Masveh. That’s how he did it.
“There are other hands in this game, others that also hear her voice; others who cling to the treachery of old. They built the temple for him, its dais, its sanctum, its reservoir of power and his throne. There he went, wounded, without flesh; in agony but burning for revenge. He filled himself with the temple’s power, all but draining it; for now he had only one purpose. He had seen within the champion’s mind that which he loved, and he came back down to destroy it all.
“The moon still hung above the horizon as the first rays of dawn awakened that other land, the land of the Gauls. He appeared there in the middle of a field, cloaked in a haze within the receding twilight. With one blow he snapped in two a servant that was headed for the orchards. The wife of that man ran to him and there he ended her life too. Their cries sent the rest of the workers running in all directions. The animals went mad. The horses burst out of their stables. Some tried to attack the monster but they too paid with their lives.
“I entered the house and found the object of his wrath. The woman was paralyzed at the window, watching in terror as a living fog scattered limbs of animals and men across the field. I spread Truth over her eyes, and shook her and asked, ‘What do you see?’
“‘Living glass, shaped like a man, tendrils of crystal, hatred, death. She almost succumbed again to panic as his eyes found hers, for in that meeting of eyes he poured out every intention of his mind into hers. I veiled that flow and turned her face toward mine, ‘How do we destroy that which it is?’
“She pushed the fear aside, stepped back, and flung open a door in the floor of the room. Down the steps she went, to return in seconds holding up a glass bottle coated inside and outside with wax, filled with a clear oily liquid. In her other hand she held a sackcloth bag. The thing was feet from the door, yet the sight no longer terrified her. Instead it was anger that rose within her heart, for that thing had tried to kill her man.
“Her racing heart, the adrenalin flowing through her veins, multiplied the depth of the Truth on her eyes. She saw in her mind the living crystals twitching within the broken skull of that thing that had been Diderici. Their vibrations rippled from one to another and back, like lightning within the clouds, connecting, forming a network through which his will flowed to every limb of mineral and glass that now encased the remaining organs of what had been his human existence. “‘Dissolve the joints and they cannot talk,’ she said as she opened the bottle. ‘Fuse them together and they are helpless.’ She handed me the sack, it was filled with coils of metal. ‘You will need fire and oxygen.’
“She stepped in front of it as it crossed the threshold into her house, and she swept the bottle across its path. The splashing liquid bit into the crystalline framework of its torso, and burst into sizzling vapor. Its left shoulder crumbled under the liquid’s attack. The thing staggered in surprise. She swung the bottle again, and the acid soaked into the mask of glass and bone that formed its face.
“The thing shrieked in pain. It dug the claws of its remaining arm into her arm and lifted her up intending to smash her against the wall, but from there she shattered the bottle on its head. ‘Now’, she screamed. I broke the crystalline arm with the edge of my sword and pulled the woman back as I scattered the bagful of metal foil over its hissing form. The contact of metal and acid filled the room with a violent cloud of hydrogen, and I understood the meaning of her words. A glancing blow of my blade on the iron grate of the fireplace drew a spark that ignited the air, and then I called upon the wind, the whirlwind, and the storm.
“He roared in defiance only once. Every ribbon of metal that dissolved, I replaced with a new coil, enveloping his head and torso in a deadly sheath of foaming acid and burning wind. When the flames flared into white heat he screamed. He started to turn to seek out the moon. I could not let him escape. I wrapped myself around him and became the hurricane. I cried to her to flee, as he started tearing into me; but she did not. Instead, even as the house succumbed to the tempest, she continued feeding the fire, pushing every piece of combustible debris within her reach through my spinning body into his, until she saw that the fire reached the burning point of iron and then she fed it the fireplace grating.
“She pushed it through me into him, until the core of the fire flared like the sun. His mind screamed as the crystalline network that supported his being started to fuse into one useless mass, and then everything exploded outwards.
“My form was scattered across the fields, the house was consumed to the ground, and Diderici’s body ceased to exist. It took me days to reorganize, to unwrap myself from the winds of the earth. By the time I was able to coalesce, only smoking ashes remained. The surviving servants had returned to find the charred remains of their mistress. Trembling, they buried her and the others that died that day. And then they sent for a parish priest to come from the nearest town, begging him to bless those graves. I did my best to help the survivors forget what they had been through. Eventually, they all left.”
Shahavaw clung to her daughter, and Masveh returned that embrace; and she understood all. “We destroyed him, didn’t we?” Shahavaw’s eyes pleaded.
Masveh just held on to her.
In that final explosion the essence that had once been Diderici was ripped away from the scaffold of sorcery that had given him power and life. It cut through her mother on the way out. His thoughts and hers collided. He tried to cling to her, to become her, to possess fey again, but the fire outside, and the fire inside her, proved too strong. And a breath later he was gone.
Masveh could not imagine what that final clash had been like. What she had seen and felt in her mother’s mind was but the fringe of the reality she had experienced. There were almost no thoughts with which to describe the depths of Diderici’s depravity.
“We destroyed him, didn’t we?” Shahavaw repeated and Masveh pressed her face against her face and nodded yes.
“It is over, Mother; you can rest.”
Masveh left her Queen in her favorite chair, and bid farewell to the servant. She waited outside for Ynona. Studying the brilliant sky steadied her heart. On purpose she took in the beauty of her world, absorbing with her eyes every detail of its shape. And then she pressed those details into memories, and ordered herself never to forget what the real world feels like. She wondered if that command to herself would work or if she would soon share her mother’s fate.
A commotion down below, took her eyes off the sky. A cavalry detachment had come to a sudden stop at the edge of the plaza of the Great Palace Gate. The riders jumped to the ground, drew their swords and held them before their faces in military salute. Their war-horses bowed down, as one, before the cloaked figure crossing their path; for none may remain mounted before the Riders of the Athan.
They stood in perfect attention until the flowing deep blue cloak passed them by. Its owner was almost a head shorter than them all and yet to a man they held their breath. The effect on the people was the same. They made way on the streets and sidewalks. None tried to peer inside the shadow of the hood. Some did notice the flicker of a thin tail every so often swinging out from under the billowing folds. A few of the children stared at the trail of cloven footprints it left in the dust.
The cloaked one stopped before the Queen’s house and Masveh was the first one to speak. Touching her chest and offering an open hand, palm up, she said, “Light to you, Ynona Shark-slayer.”
The figure bowed till a knee touched the ground. “Brightness upon you, Rider Majestic.”
Masveh brought the fingers of her hand together and her visitor arose and drew back her hood to reveal the shimmering silver and blue-green scales of the children of Cyrilshasik. Her cheeks were mottled with a rusty pattern of tiny leopard-like spots, her mane was deep red. Masveh spoke again, “I thank you for your service on this watch.”
“I would yield to none the opportunity to serve you.” Ynona paused for a moment. She knew, as Masveh knew, that what she was about to say did not need saying. Yet she was compelled to speak as every time before. “Your kin look forward to the day that you will grace them with your countenance again.”
Masveh bowed her head at the young Selk. In that moment she felt a deep yearning for the all-embracing rhythm of the waves. “Soon, very soon.”
Ynona took her place by the door. “I will guard. Do you return to the world of man?”
“The watchers of the heavens see conflict in the stars.” Ynona tried to read Masveh’s eyes. “If there is, Selk will ever stand with the Noble Gentry; the House of Cyrilshasik will lead the charge.”
Masveh again nodded quietly and then, without thinking, reached out her hand to caress the face of that young warrior. The large yellow-green eyes shrunk for a moment into twin vertical slits. When they reappeared they were coated with a layer of moisture and so were Masveh’s. “The air is dry in my land,”
Ynona bowed her head.
Masveh stepped away and set her eyes on the world of man. A glance at her mirror revealed the extent of the passage of time, and confirmed that the state of the Sun had not worsened. She looked back, not at her world, but at the last of the memories she had shared with Shahavaw: The limb of the moon had not sunk completely below the horizon when Diderici disappeared in that fiery blast.