|A Green Sun Illuminates the Void
Author: EarthScorpion PM
Louise the Zero. A failure even at summoning a familiar. But now she has a second chance, access to power beyond the Void. Soon a new day shall dawn on Halkeginia, its light green and terrible and beautiful. They don't know what's going to hit them. Book I in the Verdigris and Flame Sequence.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Fantasy - & Louise - Chapters: 19 - Words: 210,434 - Reviews: 216 - Favs: 345 - Follows: 313 - Updated: 03-13-13 - Published: 01-15-11 - id: 6654901
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Green Sun Illuminates The Void
Chapter 13: Fallen Titans
Cold rain beat down outside the carriage windows, dancing in the trackless swampland that surrounded the raised road. The horses were moving at a trot, their coats drenched, and their hooves threw up water that met the descending rain. Slumped against the carriage window, Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière, Viscountess of Vajours, stared out into the rain with vacant eyes stewing in self-pity and misery. Her hands were chained in front of her, and there were two other Albionese noblewoman with her, survivors of the fall of New Castle.
There was a cough from one of the armed woman in the carriage. The dank-haired woman shifted, her leather buff jacket squeaking. Formally, she and her companions were 'chaperones', but their pistols and lobster-pot helmets put lie to any claim of protecting her virtue. No, they were desbattionarianist soldiers, like a traitorous version of Princess Henrietta's musketeers, and she had no doubt that they would shoot her if, by some means, she posed a threat.
It was not like that could do anything. Louise knew she could kill the two armoured women in less than ten seconds, for all that her hands were chained together, she was unarmed, and they were always sure to keep their weapons out of reach of the prisoners. They lived only at her tolerance. Them and the guards around them, and the soldiers who marched around them, and even those black-clad priests and priestesses she saw around.
But... what was the point? What would she do? Where would she go? She was somewhere in Albion, headed no doubt towards Londinium, and she had heard the beating of dragon wings out in the rain. She truly, honestly hoped their riders were suffering, but that did not change the fact that they could outpace and track her. And she'd at least need to get her hands on a weapon first before she could think of killing on a dragon.
That she could think that in all honesty, without a trace of self-mockery was disturbing to the girl. It was doubly disturbing that she only found it disturbing when she paused for a moment to consider it. And it was triply disturbing when she remembered that she was forgetting the flaying sands with that consideration, and she didn't even need a weapon.
But all of this was just her mind whirring in the background, trying to not think about what had happened in New Castle.
She had seen it fall. And something inside her had broken. It... it was madness, nothing less. And not the sort of madness that someone might chuckle at, not a laughable eccentricity, nor was it the madness that some people might think she possessed because she talked to something in her head.
It was pure, raw madness; the insanity that struck people when the blue moon Dorika was full in the sky. It had been irrational, all-consuming self-hatred.
And there had been that horrible, wonderful rush after the end of it. She had felt so good once the soul-crushing depression had left, and she had become able to care about the world again. It didn't matter that she was in chains; she had felt rested, in a way which she hadn't been with her disturbed sleep. That didn't happen normally. It hadn't happened when she had felt like that before. No, it never normally was wonderful after she had been so filled with self-loathing and knowledge of her own failure that – she swallowed – it bought back bad memories. There had been times, as she had become a teenager, and still could not cast the simplest spells, times when tutors had mentioned the world 'inexprimé' and times when the people in her class had... no! She wasn't to think of the long nights, the moments when she had considered that perhaps her family would be better off without a failure of a daughter to besmirch their name.
She would never go back to those times. Never again. But... they seemed to be a part of her. She... she could get new power, but it would always follow her. Never be free from it.
Louise sniffed, her chains rattling as she reached up to dab at her eyes with the corner of her sleeve. Slumping back down, she stared out the window again. She blinked. The rain was red, staining the earth where it fell and leaving tinted trains down the carriage window. The rich scent of coppery blood filled her nostrils. Well. She sighed. Another madness vision. Another intrusion on her mind. She really was mad.
"What's up with the weather?" the woman next to her asked, her clipped Court Albionese perplexed. There was a babble of Albionese from the guards, too, and the carriage seemed to be slowing down.
Louise blinked. Were other people seeing it?
"Clearly the Lord has turned his back on the traitors!" proclaimed the woman, glaring at the rebels. There was shouted Albionese back, through which Louise could just about understand a heavily accented order to be quiet, and the guards continued to talk among themselves.
'Marisalon?' she asked, tentatively.
"Looks like omen weather, my princess?" was the bored response. "Not much. Look, it was only a short shower of blood."
The girl blinked. She opened her mouth.
She remembered she wasn't meant to talk to the neomah living in her head in public, and closed her mouth again.
'What do you mean by that?' she thought.
She could almost feel the mild surprise off the neomah. "Omen weather, my lady. It is a sign of a flaw in the world. Or, sometimes it happens back in the City, when trade goods react to their entry into a superior world."
'So...' Louise paused, trying to put the sentence together. 'That makes it rain blood?'
There was a desultory yawn from Marisalon. "Blood, fish, frogs, two-headed cows being born, red lightning, random fires, strange lights in the sky... nothing out of the ordinary."
Louise shuddered. She hated frogs. And once again, she was reminded of just how strange her head-familiar could be. Sighing again, she stared back out of the window, as the light covering of gore was washed away by the rain and the republicans and her fellow prisoners panicked.
Yes, things were not as they should be, and the world was so very flawed. The neomah had that much right.
Villages and rice paddies started to dot the landscape of swampland and gorse as it rose onto more solid land. There squatted low, heavy stone buildings, many of which had wooden shacks built upon them. And from there, inevitably, the land rose to the city of Londinium. This city was no Bruxelles, and there was no inner city of white marble and straight streets rebuilt for aesthetics in its bleak grey stone and sullen red brick. Ancient and stinking, man-made hills of forgotten stone and slag sprawled across the landscape, growing their strange crop of buildings built wherever the men of early years wished. Many mage-built bridges reached over the sewage-choked river that crept its way across the dank landscape, and they too blossomed with buildings, crowding together to get away from the water which seemed to dominate this island of the skies. A pall of smoke hung heavy over this city, like a sullied bridal veil.
Oliver Cromwell looked over his city. And it was good. Lowering the spyglass from his eye, he had to resist the urge to dance. "They're almost here," he said to himself gleefully, at the sight of the semaphore flags raised over the Black Marsh gate station. "Almost ready."
The rattle of the iron-plated coaches as they clattered their way across the cobbled streets was aggravatingly loud. It was just another sign of the inferiority of Albion in the eyes of the Viscountess Wardes. The roads of Bruxelles were mage-smoothed, hardened stone proof against the wear and tear of life; no potholes marred their surface. The same could not be said of Londinium, and the ride was teeth-rattling. Had she been asleep, she would have been jolted awake rudely the first time the entire coach lurked that precipitously.
Of course, she had not slept at all throughout the entire trip. She realised part-way through that she simply wasn't tired, and that she could simply stay awake as easily as she might not sleep at noon of a normal day. This was convenient, in its own way, because it did mean she could escape the nightmares, but it had left her dreadfully bored. It was in the nights that she had most considered escape, but there had always been guards around, including flights of dragoons, and the melancholy and self-doubt that had followed the depression was always present.
Through narrow streets, escorted by armoured riders, the coaches proceeded, working their way up and around one of the hillocks which the city seemed to be built around. Mid-way up was where they stopped, the shouting of orders loud now that the clattered of the coaches had been silenced. Looking out the window, Louise could see a bleak edifice of dirty-white stone which seemed to be built into the hillside itself, looming and imposing. Hooded corpses swung from gallows in front of it, the spells no-doubt preserved by magic as to ensure that they would remain a demonstrative lesson. It was a not-uncommon fate for traitors in Tristain, too, and Louise recognised this place from books.
This would be none other than Traitor's Gate, the fortress entrance to the Tower of Londinium. The prison-citadel of the kings of Albion, built into the undercity itself, warded by fearsome magics and ancient murder-golems. Looking up, she could see what had to be the Pale Tower breaking the surface of the hillock, a bone-pale tower of stone that the dirt of the rest of the city refused to cling to, which rose, ragged and tooth-like into the grey sky. And now the last loyal nobles of Albion were to be sent there.
"My fair lady, it would probably be disadvantageous for us to be imprisoned therein," Marisalon suggested, in a somewhat sardonic drawl.
'Stupid head-familiar,' the girl thought back, with an aggrieved jerk of her head. 'I know that.'
"Now would probably be a good time to escape," the neomah suggested.
Louise pursed her lips. 'I know!' she thought. 'I'm waiting for us to get out of the carriages!'
There was a hum of pleasure from inside her skull. "Good, most excellent. My princess... please, I beg of you, don't go crazy and start crying again. It would be disadvantageous for our shared health."
The girl flushed red, even as the guard ordered her to stand. 'St-st-stupid thing!' she mentally snapped. 'Of course I won't!'
Louise was aware that her legs should be aching. They were not, despite the fact that they had been travelling for three days, sleeping in the coach still chained up. Whatever element of her biology meant that her muscles didn't cramp up, she was profoundly grateful for it. Her nose twitched in contempt at the clatter of chains that resulted from one of the noblewomen falling down as she tried to climb down from the steps with asleep legs.
"This way!" shouted a guard, in accented Court Albionese. Louise was pretty sure that was she had said, at least, and the pointing gesture was probably enough.
Well. Her hands were tied, yes, but she was out of the coach. Everyone else was tired, and carefully she rose up onto her toes, bouncing up and down as if she was trying to work stiffness out of her feet.
Her eyes flicked over the area, and the strange, alien violence-machine in her head took over her thinking. Tear the chains off, the green fire consuming them completely. Lunge and kill the guard beside her, take her weapon from the charred corpse. Kill the mage-officer, and the remainder of the guards with the sword. Kill...
... Louise shivered. No. She wasn't going to do that, not now. Not all that killing, so casually. It was different if they were directly threatening her, but she wasn't the sort of person who would just kill another person in cold blood because it was the most convenient way. She could walk through walls; she just needed to run for it, when she was close to a wall. Even an earth mage, if they parted the stone, would have to realise what she'd done before they could set chase. She just needed to wait for the right moment.
Indeed, a low-hanging cloud was rolling in from the east, heavy with rain. Standing in a line with the other prisoners, waiting while they unloaded the other carriages, Louise could not help but smile to herself. She had already seen how thick the fogs could get around Albion, and that would make it even easier for her to dart away. The desbattionarianists seemed to be aware of that, as they tried to hurry up the unloading process. She was fairly sure that they were not going to manage to do it in time.
"It's wonderful, isn't it," Marisalon remarked. "My lady, the building behind is appears to be a guard-house. If you head that way, you'll be able to arm yourself in there. If only we were not still wearing the wedding dress; it is lamentably white, and will be obvious to those who try to chase us. Perhaps it might be an idea to see if you might be able to find some kind of jacket or shirt in there, that you could slip over the top, and maybe a helmet. It is probably too much to hope that we might be able to avoid them long enough to be able to change completely."
'Good idea,' Louise thought, feeling rather pleased with how her head-familiar was making herself useful. 'I don't want to lose this dress, though. It's the royal wedding dress of Albion; I should protect it with my honour. It was lent to me.'
She thought she heard the neomah sigh, but any further comments were lost in her surprise. The red-uniformed guards who had emerged from Traitor's Gate were being reinforced, and the reinforcements were not just men. Brutally sleek golems, which put the ones which Guiche back at the academy could produce to shame, separated from the off-white stone of the Gate. The androgynous giants which looked almost like a wax doll partially melted in the heat were carrying weapons made of the same substance as their bodies, swords the size of a small child and shields which upon closer inspection were grotesquely twisted hands, and they moved to surround the entire group. Louise could already see what would happen if any of the prisoners made a run for it; it would take them within range of those brutal swords, to be cut down.
And then she gasped, as the next man was manhandled from one of the coaches. He was not like the others, chained by the hands; a prison-golem encased him, surrounding all his body with iron under the control of another and leaving only his head exposed. And that head, that bruised, beaten head with its mob of unwashed blonde hair matted with clotted blood, was the Prince Wales. He was alive, Louise saw that much in the glinting of her eyes, before six of the golems surrounded him like a living wall.
"Behold the traitor, Cearl of the House of Stewart," a mage-officer cried out, in Court Albionese.
"Interesting," Marisalon breathed. "So they took him alive... most interesting. My lady, we should consider how best to take advantage of this, and... oh."
Another figure in a prison-golem was manoeuvred out of a different carriage. And this walking iron prison was much smaller, smaller even than Louise herself. Princess Sophia was sobbing silently at the sight of Traitor's Gate and the corpses hanging outside it, the kind of tears which could only come from having wept day and night until one's voice was lost. More of the gate-golems moved to surround her, and they marched off too.
Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière, Viscountess of Vajours froze. She let out a single breath through clenched teeth. Once again, the fury was back. The killing fury, the one which had carried her through the burning castle of New Castle.
"Please, my beautiful lady, please. Against such numbers, without your blessed spear, chained up as you are, now is not the time to fight," the neomah interjected hastily. "Save your energy, then extract your revenge. Please, I beg of you, use that wonderful mind of yours as well as your strong, brave heart. You won't be able to reach her in time should they seek to do her harm."
For all that they were traitors, for all that they were sinners under the eyes of the Lord and the Founder, she had not expected the rebels to treat a little girl like that. The message that they were conveying by marching her like that – unable to even control her own limbs – into Traitor's Gate, festooned with unrotting corpses, was all too clear.
She couldn't leave the princess alone. She just... couldn't. It was something as alien to her as suicide, or betraying Princess Henrietta, or acting against her family. Even the idea of attempting it made her feel sick to her gut, an intolerable burning churning and boiling in her. She glanced over at the shackled form of the Prince Wales. No, peculiar. There wasn't that same bone-deep certainty there.
And that meant that she would have to let them imprison her, rather than breaking out now. That was sickening in its own right. But Princess Henrietta would not have given her this mission if she had not thought that she could do what was necessary, and for all that this was somewhat outside the parameters of what had been expected, and – the girl swallowed – for all that there was no sign of her husband here, which might mean that he was dead... for all of that, she would try to do her best to complete the mission.
Or at least what she felt to be the best spirit of the mission, given that she had destroyed the letters she was meant to bring back to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
Up steep stairs and through narrow twisting corridors she was taken, and every step she took she used to try her best to memorise the way in and out and how things might be protected. Marisalon pointed out various defences; the neomah seemed rather familiar with at least some elements of fortress design, and her remarks that a certain hallway was designed to be flooded with acid or burning oil were a welcome warning. At some point, the architecture shifted suddenly, the corridors becoming wider, and the stairs were replaced by great clanking cargo lifts, powered by donkeys whose braying was an oddity among this place of clean white stone.
One by one, the noble prisoners were split off, and escorted to their captivity. When it came to her turn, it was all that she could do to glare at them rather than kill the red-coated guards right now, for they had grabbed her arms hard enough to bruise. Only the knowledge that she did not yet know where Princess Sophia was held her back.
The room which was to be her cell was bleak, but not entirely inhumane. Though the walls were painted a simple white, and the magelights embedded in the ceiling and walls so a prisoner might not use them as a tool, there were at least rugs on the floor, and a decent bed. The room itself looked like it had once been larger, but had been partitioned off by a wall which had cut through the middle of the room, with a door plastered over. A sizeable window let through slightly blue-tinted light; it looked like it was the same stone which made up the outside wall, transmuted by magic until it was as clear as fine glass – at least that was Louise's noble-born opinion on the subject. And the main door to the cell which rattled shut behind her was massive, solid iron, and slid along tracks rather than being hinged.
"Rather pathetically done for a prison," was Marisalon's personal opinion. "I occasionally had dealings with a soladity which carried out such things... although it was not a prison, no, of course not, because the right to enact punishment like that is the sole preserve of the Priests of the Endless Desert, may her sands flow on for evermore. Of course, they were sensible, and simply sealed the cell shut once the prisoner had been thrown in, though of course there was a Cecelynian glass window which you could use to watch them dance when the floor underneath them was heated. Oh, how amusing that was. And they had other, more expensive options for imprisoning one's foes who one regrettably needed alive, not to mention the bespoke options like the many torturers they had on staff, and..."
'Marisalon. Shut up.' Her head-familiar did occasionally remind her of the fact that she was not human. Although... come to think of it, that heated floor thing was one of the ways that heretics had been made to repent. She was fairly sure that such things had been mentioned in history books she had read.
"My lady, I did not think that you were squeamish about due punish... oh, right." The neomah sounded bashful. "Oh yes, we are imprisoned ourselves. See how comfy the bed is."
It was remarkably comfortable, Louise found, as she collapsed face-first onto it. Considerably more comfortable than that miserable bed on the ship days ago, and it went without saying that it was better than spending days on a coach. By her measured opinion, it was less comfortable than her bed at the Academy, but it was not intolerable.
Louise blinked, mind wandering. How would she disguise the fact that she did not need to use the chamberpot? Surely they'd notice at some point?
And Wardes was almost certainly dead. In the silence, it struck her like a hammer blow. He had not been among the captives, and she had seen the infirmary burning. He had said that he had gone to sleep there, to try to recover his strength, and she had seen how weak he had seemed. Had he even woken up? Had he suffocated in smoke or... or... or had he burned to death?
A sob escaped her chest. Her husband dead, without even a night together in the eyes of God. Dead on her wedding night, the ring on her finger the only proof that she was married. And... and if she was pregnant, from that night on the ship, then the... the f-father of her, of their child was dead too.
"My lady, my lady," Marisalon began. "At least you do not know if he is dead, yes? He may have escaped, may have evaded them. After all, did he not have that vanishing magic with the lightning that he used to get into the castle in the first place." The neomah paused. "He may be coming to rescue us right now. Although we should probably not count on it, because dependency on such an uncertain chance would be weak and foolish if we can escape on our own, yes?"
"He won't b-be coming," Louise whispered into her pillow, hugging it tight. "D-d-did y-you see how much the... the lightning transport cost h-him the first time? He w-wouldn't have been able to c-cast it when he was that t-tired. Or run away... n-not that he would do that. Which means he's... dead." She swallowed. "And I'm a w-widow at age sixteen," she added, an edge of hysteria in her voice. "A widow still in her w-wedding dress."
The girl pulled herself upright, wiping her eyes on the white fabric, which absorbed the moisture. "They'll pay," she breathed. "All of them." Her hands were balled into fists, her nails squeezing tight into her skin. The sharpened brass no longer drew blood, and she did not feel any discomfort.
"My lady, it would be best if you did not make your sacred vows of undying vengeance out loud," the voice in her head suggested. "I can hear men outside."
The large iron door grated its way open, and Louise repressed a sigh at the sight of drawn swords. In deference to the fact that she was apparently a problem, in that she was not Albionese, the swords were not raised in a hostile position. And perhaps the fact that she was... petite meant they were even lower than they should have been, although given she lacked a wand, she really wondered what they thought she could do to them. Any further thoughts, however, were derailed by the sight of what could only be a maid behind the guards, carrying a basket of what she was fairly sure to be folded clothes.
"She is your maid," said one moustached guard, in very heavily accented Low Tristainian. "She will be looking after the clothes and the washing and such like."
Louise nodded, her anger temporarily averted. She had not quite realised how much she had wanted fresh clothes and a wash until this moment. This way, at least, she could get out of the wedding dress, which... well, there was a creeping scent of metal around it, which suggested that at some point, the cleaning spells on it had been overwhelmed by the blood she had shed. "Hot water?" she asked. "For cleaning and the like?"
"It is here, now," he said, letting the second woman past him. She was carrying a steaming copper basin with her, towels over her arms; not enough for a bath, but she would at least be able to clean everywhere when she was out of this dress. The man cleared his throat, catching Louise's attention again, which had drifted hot water-wards. "Please be done within one hour. The maids will be in here, with you. Treat them bad, and they will not come again."
The click of shoes behind him jolted Cromwell from his paperwork. The astrologers at Greenwich were reporting strange omens in the stars, and present-tellings which were systematically wrong; it was just another hassle in his day. He had not heard the door open, which meant that this could only be one person. Shuffling his papers, he put them down with a cough and turned around, trying to keep calm. "So, how is it?" he asked Sheffield enthusiastically. "Your messages were accurate?"
"Yes, Lord Protector," the woman said. Her black frock, masculine in its cut, was spotless despite the days she had spent on the road. Even her boots were polished. But then again, that was one of the things that one could always say around Sheffield; she was almost painfully neat. The only thing that broke the line of her garb was the long sword slung over her back, black cloth wrapped around the hilt. "Both Prince Cearl and Princess Sophia have now been confined within the Pale Tower."
"Wonderful!" Cromwell let out a chuckle, a half-giggle. "Oh, this is just wonderful!" he announced, pulling himself to his feet, and striding over to one of the cabinets. "Blessed be Lord and Firstman," he announced, retrieving a book bound in green leather. "Such bounteous success shows that God himself supports the Reclamation! Just a little more, and we'll have those vile elves facing the unified forces of all of Halkeginia."
"Yes," Sheffield said, folding her gloved hands in front of her. "You will note among the lists of the other captives, there is one Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière. According to her, she is the Viscountess Wardes. She is wearing a wedding dress, which matches with her story that she married the Viscount Wardes the night of the successful assault."
The man nodded, a bobbing, jerking motion of his head. "Yes, I saw. Um. No sign of the viscount, is there?"
"There is not. Neither body nor capture."
"Damnation," Cromwell said, snapping the book shut. "He would have been concrete proof of a greater interference by the Tristainian state in our internal affairs. Rostrum warned us he'd be there... was there even any sign of his presence? Could that shifty Tristainian rat have been lying to us? And what more could he been lying to us about? Can we trust anything he said; you said he was reliable!" the man said, working himself up.
"Unlikely. I conversed with several prisoners. They confirmed his presence. They noted he looked ill." The pale-skinned woman paused, shifting slightly. "If so, he may have been in the infirmary, and that was razed by our fire dragons."
The man massaged his temples, tucking a stray dark-blond hair back. "The fortunes of war, eh?" he said, after a moment. "To be thwarted by... Lord, gut-cramp or something. Well, does Madam de la Vallière have the letter Rostum said she has?"
Sheffield's face twitched, for a moment, though what emotion flashed across it could not be read. "I oversaw her capture. She was hysterical and sobbing at the time; I could find no message or papers upon her body."
Cromwell rolled his eyes. "Damn the Prince Wales and his paranoia. Well, it may be a verbal message. Find out what it is, while we ransom her back to Tristain."
"You do not wish to do that," Sheffield said, in her strangely accented voice. "Inform Tristain, and they will ask of her. And if it is known that we have her, it removes certain options. Moreover, it was foolish of you to treat her as a normal prisoner. I will take full duties for her custody."
Cromwell gnawed on a nail, pacing up and down. "Yes, you're right, of course," he said, after due deliberation. "We need to get proof of Tristain's complicity in more than sticking their fingers into Albion. Tristain, and more so, the Princess Henrietta. We need to be able to pin it on her, personally, and best be able to link it to some adultery or love for the Prince Wales or that damnable marriage to the Germanian Emperor will go ahead and the Iron Dragon will have Tristain in his claws. And he's a jealous man, and not likely to share... or care about the necessity of reclaiming the Holy Land from the elves."
Cromwell had reached the balcony by now, and had his fingers grasped around it knuckles white. "Sheffield," he snapped, after a moment staring out over the city, "I give you full authority to get that proof we need. It would be better if it's willing, especially if she can be reasoned with to understand what terrible, terrible people the House of Stewart and that wrinkled slug Jacomus were and become a friend of the Reclamation..." he took a deep breath, "... but this? This is second only to your duties in the court case. I'm giving you full authority over this."
"Thank you, Lord Protector," the dead-eyed woman said in her monotone, inclining her head slightly. "Your will be done."
The hours ticked by in tedium, and Louise endured. Once the maids – who had spoken nothing but Albionese – had left, there was nothing much to do. At least, though gestures and speaking loudly and slowly, they had helped her remove the wedding dress and get into something lighter and easier to move in, and, likewise, she had ordered them to let her keep the white gown and they had obeyed her. It was at least something that her noble attitude could penetrate even the language barrier. The light blue dress and skirts she was wearing was rather more comfortable and easier to move in, and did not have a faint smell of blood. Now she was waiting on her bed, her attention split between watching the city outside the transparent-stone window, and trying to read some of the Albionese books and pamphlets which had been left inside the room.
She traced her finger over the words of the latest one.
BY THE DEŞBATTION, IN THE NAME OF LORD AND FIRŞTMAN
A Broadtale for the Taking and Wellholding
of Cearl of the Houſe of Ştewart
badly called the Prince Wales
Alſo being a wrongſwrit for thoſe who help, underwrite, or otherwiſe ſecondact him in any ways whatſoever
Whereas Cearl of the Houſe of Ştewart, ſon of the badlordiſh King Jacomus I, acting with manyfold others of the Albioneſe folk, has in an unfolkiſh and foul ſeeming moved into this folkplace and broken its wellneſs, acting with landwarcraft ſtrength againſt the ſtrengths of the Holy Freemenland of Albion. Whereſoever he goes, he ſhall be greatfollowed, and all hardworkings ſhall be made towards taking him alive. For the ſpeedy taking and wellholding of ſuch a faerful folkfoe, the Deſbattion does aufgabe and bid all ſheriffs of Albion, whether townmanniſh, landwarcrafty or otherwiſe, and the good men of this folk, that they make all hardworking haſte to act to thwart, forſeal, and otherwiſe hinder his wrongdoing deeds, and furthermore upon his taking he ſhould be bought forthwith and with no ableave before the Deſbattion, being ſure to take away his wand from his ſelf. It is avowed that he ſhall have a fair and fairweighted trial, ſuch that his wrongdoings againſt the men of Albion be rightly ſeen, and hencewith, abovethinking the greatneſs of thoſe wrongdoings, the ſinpain ſhall be death by hanging.
If any ſelf ſhould knowingly forbide the Prince Cearl of the Houſe of Ştewart, or any who underwrite or adhere to his goals, or does not behold to others the places of their abode or being, if it is in their might to do ſo, the Deſbattion makes known that they ſhall henceforth be taken to partake of his wrongdoings and to underwrite in them, and they too ſhould be took, to be bought before an ſheriff of the law, to be ſinpained as is right and apt. Hardworking ſearch and beſt makeworkings ſhould be made to defeat any ſtrengths he raiſes, whether unfolkiſh or coinhired. The Deſbattion and the Holy Freemenland of Albion does hereby make known that whoſoever does take the ſelf of the Prince Cearl of the Houſe of Ştewart and ſhall bring him, or cauſe him to be bought to the ſheriffs of the Deſbattion, ſhall have given to him, or them, as a coingift for ſuch good deeds, the coinholding of One Thouſand Five Hundred Pounds, and the good ſeeming of all ſheriffs, townmanniſh and landwarcrafty, of the Deſbattion.
Written and made known at Eaſtdeacon
Ordered by the Deſbattion, that this Broadtale ſhall forthwith be publiſhed and printed.
John Brightſtone, Cler. Deſ.
With a disgusted sigh, she threw the pamphlet asides. Founder! Albionese was a pain to read! For all that the accent might make it completely indistinguishable gibberish, it was at heart a Brimiric language, even if it was packed with commoner words which, worse, were different from Low Tristainian. But there were enough words which were different that she got a migraine from trying it, not to mention the stupid typography. Clearly, being a bunch of inbred traitors on a wet miserable stupid island did terrible things to their printing skills. It... it was probably for the best that they knew how to operate a printing press, rather than just finger-painting the words in.
That fact that this was nothing less than a reward poster for the Prince Wales, and was its own way a gloating sign of their victory could did not help.
Again she looked out the window, towards Londinium. The nearest city-hillock was lit in brazier-light, and the clouds were low overhead, veiling the moons. It was a dark night out there, and that was good. She was only going to scout out this citadel now, at night, when the guards would likely be less watchful. See if she could find out where they were keeping Princess Sophia, and, better, if they were keeping wands here that she might arm the other captive mages with.
Louise breathed out slowly in a faint hiss.
She flexed a mental muscle, and walked straight into the door.
"Ow," was what she managed from down on the floor. On one hand, it didn't hurt as much as walking into the door should have. On the other hand, it was a door. And it had not let her through.
Door weren't allowed to do that! Not once had that trick failed before!
Which meant that this was a trap she had walked into. Warding against spirits to prevent their divine allies from leaving through the walls, and by sealing off the underground passages their Dragonblooded would not be able to get messages out by the wind currents. This was more than just a Lintha naval base; they had some kind of greater ally, she thought. Lit in the pink-gold light of the dawn, she stared around the underground mooring for just a second, before she began barking out orders. If this was a trap, she was going to wait here to trigger it, because she had to find who was behind this.
Louise moaned in pain. Now her head was hurting far more than it had when it had collided with the wall. That thing should get out of her head and stop giving her flashbacks! Even if it had actually been useful for once!
"What thing, my lady? I cannot help unless you tell me."
"Shut up!" the girl groaned, screwing her eyes shut to block out the too-bright pink gold light that washed out everything in the cell, leaving it pale and faded. If she just ignored it, it would turn out not to be real, and since Marisalon couldn't see it, it meant it wasn't real! Picking herself up, she shuffled over, and walked into the wall, falling down on her bottom. Which hurt just as much.
... why was she using the voice in her head to tell if she was seeing things or not, anyway?
Louise screamed, as loud as she could, lurching to her feet. The rage and frustration and unhappiness came out in one torrential cry of misery, and she punched the wall as hard as she could. Green fire burst around her fists and her skin as she struck again and again. Plaster burned and ignited, the entire facade of the wall falling away in white ash, and its faint screams were lost by the mad bellow from the Viscountess Wardes. She punched again and again, even as carapace forced its way out of her skin and a crown of bone horns tore its way from her temples and the verdigris-and-brass fire ignited in a bonfire which washed over the entire room. She punched until her carapaced hands were bloody and broken, until the strength born of rage and power was gone, until she could not even call upon the strength to wreath her hands in the light of the green sun.
The wall still stood. The plaster and paint had burned away, and there were cracks in the strange bone-white stone which lay under the wall, but it stood. The nimbuses of green fire had not consumed the stone as they had the paint and plaster; no, the wall had cracked and bent rather than ignited. There were fist-deep pockmarks on it, wounds she had opened in it, but it remained sound. And... and she wasn't strong enough. She was too weak to break the wall.
Tears rolling down her face from both frustration and the pain in her hands, Louise slumped to the floor. If she had the Staff of Destruction, she could have done it, she was sure of it... but they'd taken that sacred trust from her. She just felt hollow and empty and worthless.
Exhaustion wracked her, and slumped down in the corner, she sucked in a gasping breath. Clasping her bloodied, broken-carapaced hands together, she bit her lip. So this was what she got for delaying, yes? For not killing guards when she got the chance? "Lord," she whispered. "Founder. Malfeas, King of Kings. I beg of you, give me strength. Give me power. Let me make them pay. Let them suffer. They all deserve to die." Her blood stained the front of her dress, and she whimpered in pain from the most-likely broken bones in her hands, but she did not unclasp her hands. "Give me vengeance and might, and I will send them to face your judgement, for their sins. Fire, wind, water, earth, hear my plea. Dread Malfeas, holy Cecelyne, generous Kimbery," she said, dredging names she had heard Marisalon mention, "give me the strength to make them all pay."
In weariness and pain, she fell asleep, still curled up in a ball in the corner. And as she slept, she dreamt, and those visions were not unlike her reality. In her dreams, she was imprisoned within this very cell, white plaster and bright mage-lights everywhere. She raged and she screamed, and the pain in her hands grew and grew as she beat her hands into the walls. All she managed to do was break away the plaster, to reveal the brass underneath, and shake the lights so they burned green.
"And so you are outcast and forbidden, anathema to all, bound five days away from the world for your sins," proclaimed a voice which burned like molten gold in her voice. "So begins your endless sentence!" With those words, the last of the plaster fell away from the walls, leaving her imprisoned inside this green-lit brass room, and from the window, she gazed out upon endless silver sands, under a black starless sky.
"Marisalon!" she screamed at the world. "Get in here!"
No scantily clad neomah made her appearance.
"Marisalon!" Louise screamed, an edge of panic in her voice.
"silly little zero," said her shadow, her own voice smug. "she's scared of us when we're like this. as she's right to be. we both know she likes to act like she's rather more powerful than she is, don't we, my little shadow?"
"I don't need to believe my shadow's talking to me!" the pink-haired girl yelled, whirling. "Th-there are enough things in my head already! Neomah and... and m-madness visions and n-nightmares and..." she gasped for breath.
"i've always been here, little shadow," said the tar-black presence, impossibly creeping under her to stand behind her again. Its amorphous hands crept along her body, two-dimensional appendages dark against her dress, squeezing and pressing and feeling.
"St-stop that!" the girl said, blushing bright red. "Get off me!" She tried to squirm out of the shadow not-her's grasp but could not step away from it. It was always just behind her.
Her own voice moaned in pleasure behind her. "you're enjoying this, though, aren't you. just like you enjoyed the viscount that night on the ship. think of how much fun you could have had all those times you passed over, because of what? shame? look at what monmon said, and how everyone always lies, doesn't follow the rules. you want this, enjoy it, why do we deny ourselves something we enjoyed?" There was the disquieting feeling of her own lips on the nape of her neck. "and i'm not something trying to tempt you into sin. i'm you, and i've always been you. you've thought all these thoughts before. remember when we rolled around on the bed on the ship, pretending that the pillow was wardes, even when we were refusing to face him in person?"
Louise bit down on her lip, beet-red, as the shadowy hands caressed her chest, hands doing exactly what she had, in the secret times, dreamt of. "Get. Off. Me," she hissed, something within her head transmuting shame into rage.
"oh, good girl," the shadow not-her laughed. It did not, however, stop its ministrations. "this is a prison, the pleasure you're feeling. another constraint." Its voice dropped. "never tolerate your own constraint. never let other people tell you what to do. you want to get away from my hands? from this cell? then escape."
Teeth bared, hands flaring with green fire, the pink-haired girl levered her fingers under her own shadow. "Get." The flame around her grew brighter and brighter. "Off."
Laughing in her own voice, her shadow peeled away, flitting behind her where she could not see it save out of the corner of her eye. "use that hate of confinement," the not-her said, giggling. "channel it, and get out of this jail. all you need is practice."
She awoke not to laughter, though, but to the sound of rattling metal and the pain in her hands.
Groggily, Louise stirred, the dream world morphing back into the world of waking in her eyes, such that she almost felt she was still asleep. But, no, the view out the window was one of blue skies, and the walls were plaster once more – save the one she was slumped against. Her muscles ached slightly from the uncomfortable sleeping position, but less than they should have. And fortunately the alterations had blended back into her skin as she slept. It would have been hard to explain such things to the cluster of clerics who had entered.
"My lady, the door is..."
Louise didn't even need to think. Like some kind of feral beast, she unfolded from the ground, arms slamming back into the wall to push off. Her blow was brutal in its simplicity, her fist bought around in a too-fast blow right into the head of the man which shattered like pottery. Exactly like pottery, in fact, for the face of the thing which had seemed like a man burst apart in a shower of porcelain, violet lightning accompanying her burst of green flame. She let her momentum carry her shoulder first into the next man, ignoring the pain in her hands, and slammed the man against the interior wall, plaster cracking behind him. Like a ragdoll she swung him around, into another man, and both broke.
Two more things that looked like men went to grapple her; she simply sprung right through them. There was a woman in front of the door, and grinning like a mad thing, the pink-haired girl jabbed at her stomach.
The woman caught her hand in her own gloved hand, and squeezed like a vice. Louise froze for a second. The sudden pain as a too-strong grip crushed her injured hand and the bones grated against each other was overwhelming, and she could not help but whimper. Then both she and the woman acted. Louise went low, hooking her leg around the woman's leg and pulling the pair of them down to the floor. Black-gloved hand balled into a fist, the woman punched her in the solar plexus, but the blow met something which felt more like plate than a ribcage. The air forced out by the impact erupted as a laugh.
Rolling over on the ground, the two women brawled by the door. The slight, petite girl was for her lack of size clearly the stronger, and bought her knee up between the other woman's legs. The resultant flare of green fire was accompanied by a scream of agony, but any triumph was cut short as four black-coated men together grabbed Louise and dragged her back into the cell.
The first was shattered by a blow which tore his clay head clean off his shoulders. The second had an arm grabbed, and a foot applied to his torso. The third was smashed to shards by the arm of the second, the brand of crossed-swords igniting on her forehead like a beacon. The fourth was reduced to broken pottery by a flurry of green-flaring punches to the torso. And she was free again and the woman on the floor was drawing an odd-looking pistol and she was jinking, her body already falling apart into sand and...
... the pistol flashed in purple light, right through the pillar of sand, and it was like she had gripped a hot poker, only the hot poker was through her abdomen. The figure of Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière recoalesced from silver sand, the dress over her abdomen the centre of a growing spread of red. That... how... she...
She stopped moving, because the woman on the floor, a purple brand burning on her forehead in counterpoint to the crossed swords, had the pistol pointed at her forehead. It wasn't a normal pistol, by any means. It resembled some hybrid between a wand and a pistol, a lattice of barbs unfolded spider-like around the central wand-like spike.
And it had the sheen of the shaft of the Staff of Destruction. The same odd-reflecting, silvery gleam that was hard to explain without having seen it before.
"Those runes," Marisalon breathed. "They're the First Speech. Mayosinitonirunu. At least she is not a Chosen of the traitor-Maidens..."
Breath rasping, the black-coated woman pulled herself up, encumbered by the sword slung over her shoulders. Her forehead was shiny with sweat, her breath rasping, but the hand with the pistol might have been carved from marble for how steady it was. One leg was convulsing, the coat around her inner thigh burned away to reveal bloody burned flesh all along her inner thigh. The room was filled with the sound of the two women gasping in pain, the floor littered with broken pottery shards and black uniforms.
"Sit down," the woman grated through clenched teeth. "Sit down familiar spirit-get, or I will put you down."
Slowly, Louise made her way backwards, both hands clutching her gut. Founder, it hurt so much. It was more than she could repress and push away, and the pain in her hands was flaring again from the impacts against so many hard heads. Her head swam, but she forced herself to not stumble. She wasn't going to show weakness in front of this... this... her eyes glinted green.
This... this thing was more powerful than Viscount Wardes was. And that was impossible, because there was no such thing as a pentagon-class mage. And the way she tasted... it was wrong. It was something akin to the way that Henrietta's bodyguard had seemed, but while she had been like the night's sky, chill and fresh, this 'Mayozinitonirunu' tasted of stars and blackness and vast, unconquerable depths. Louise shuddered at the cloying feel of those powers, and let out another pained gasp. "You're... not human," she managed.
"Neither... neither are you," the woman said, propped up against the door-frame, her strange accent thickening through the pain. "And you're..." she swallowed, "not a mage, either. That rune... I cannot read it, it is different. And these wounds... this will be very painful to heal."
"Who are you?" Louise's eyes widened in shock, for she recognised the sword slung over the woman's back. It was the same weapon Viscount Wardes had carried, she was sure of it. And that meant... "H-how did you get my husband's sword!"
"I am Sheffield," the pale woman said, ignoring the other question.
That was a lie, the dissonant grating in Louise's head proclaimed, and her nose wrinkled up. "Tell me how you got that sword!" she shouted,
"No," the woman said, clenching her jaw. "And again, you show..." she paused, gasping for breath, clearing holding her arm steady only through act of extreme will. "You show... your nature, spirit-get. Mages cannot do that."
The pink-haired girl glanced down for a moment. The accusation still hurt, even if it was true. The pain in her abdomen also hurt, she thought, staring the blood oozing out between her fingers. "What... what are you, then?" she asked.
"The same question could... could be asked of you. I don't know which spirit whelped you," the dead-eyed woman wheezed. "Your seeming does not resemble any other I know of, but I suspect if I keep you here, I will discover it when the parent comes looking for their bastard. And I will find your master, too, when they search for you."
"H-how dare you!" Louise spluttered, stuttering more out of the sheer rage within her than the pain in her abdomen. "M-my m-mother has always been faithful and you...you wouldn't be saying that if she was here! And I'm not a familiar!"
There was a glint of amusement in the strange woman's eyes, as she gasped. "Ah. You do not know who your parent is. Well, that will be something to look into. But I have you within my mind, and I can see that you are as powerful as you can be – so much power, so young; you must favour your parent. But even if you lose your mortal flesh, even if you shuck your skin, the walls will still hold you. Please, feel free to do so." Sheffield smiled, a sick, slow creeping-up of the corners of her mouth. "I like spirits. They can be so... cooperative." She was helped to her feet by another one of the dark clerics, hand still steady for all that she was hunched over, and backed away until she was away from the door, two figures moving in to obstruct any attempt to reach her while still leaving lines of fire open.
Eyes darting from left to right, the girl desperately tried to think of how to get away from this horrible, inhuman woman. Sheffield believed what she was saying; she was telling the truth. Her mind came up blank; against her, she was scared. There was something deeply malevolent about this... this thing in the shape of a woman, and... and she hated her. The fact that the horrific burns which led the dark-dressed woman to favour one leg were merely along the inner thigh, Louise's knee having missed what she was aiming for, was a fact of great disappointment to the girl.
"This place, this 'pale tower' was built before the time of your Brimir by those kin to my birthplace, before your scattered bastard-mages invaded these lands," Sheffield breathed, her voice a rasp. "It stood before your Brimir tore this island from the land and cast it into the sky, though this city was not Londinium then. It is rich with secrets and hidden magics, and I have found so many of them. This tower beats to my command; the ancient magics and the later ones alike. Do not think to escape. You will fail," she said, to the crystalline noise of truth. "You will stay here until you cooperate. There is no other way out, save escorted by me, and," the pistol twitched, "this. Your choice is simple. You attacked me when... when I just came in to talk to you, to ask you questions, you have tried to escape in the night, and... and you will not be permitted to do so. I will send spirits to watch you, to ensure your good behaviour. Try that again, and I will use the defences of this place to kill you."
Louise took a deep breath, letting it out. The pain in her side was hurting worse now, a burning sensation which didn't feel good. Hand over the wound, she clutched it, and felt it close up, though the pain increased as she did it. "You insubordinate cur," she hissed in between breaths. "I will never do what you want. You've locked me up here, rather than letting me go back to Tristain. You've killed my husband. You're a traitor, and a freak. And I will find you and hunt you down and take my husband's sword back from you." She paused, recollections of that face finally filtering through the madness which had veiled her thoughts in New Castle. "And I remember you; you stole my staff-glaive, too. Be afraid," she said, tasting hot metal in her own breath, letting this rage-filled arrogance speak for her. "Have nightmares, Madam Sheffield. And... and enjoy your nightmares. Because they're a reminder that I haven't come for you. Yet. So sleep lightly, Madam Sheffield."
The spasm of fear which flickered across that dead face overwhelming even the pain was worth it, Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière felt. The iron door rattled shut again, and she stared at the sealed portal for long minutes, gasping at the pain.
This was no longer a question of rescuing the princess and escaping. This was personal.