This is an AU story, but bear with me! I've totally disregarded everything (and including) from the end of EM, right through to RotG. In theory though, it should weave almost seamlessly back into TP's overall scheme after that, other than a few missing threads. If you're confused at any point, let me know!
I'll be dealing with quite a distressing topic for most of the fic. For someone who is quite squeamish, I've found it quite hard to write, and as a result, I've cut out some of the more gruesome parts – for my own sake as much as yours. Anyway, I'm warning you now. There will be physical and psychological traumas for the characters – please remember that if they seem OOC (it's not just an excuse for rubbish characterisation, honest!). I've done a lot of research on this topic as well, but if you have good knowledge or anything to add to it, please, let me know! All help is appreciated! Whilst I may not agree with certain assessments the characters make of themselves, it is what I think – through common sense, experience and study – that they might be feeling. The mind can be as much of a weapon towards the body as a sword – or, in this case, the Gift.
Disclaimer: I'm a penniless student. I don't own much, and certainly not Tortall and her population. And seeing as I'm currently looking for a job, you can be assured I don't make money out of being a fanfic author either. (Though, if anyone finds a way you can, be sure and let me know! ;) ) The characters herein are the creation of Tamora Pierce.
"... there is life after them to be considered. When we go home, it would be hard to stop Ozorne's spies from trying to hurt either of you." - Alanna.
An almighty crash pulled his most serene and Imperial Majesty, Ozorne Muhassin Tasikhe, the famed Emperor Mage of Carthak, rudely from his musings. Standing, he moved from his desk to the window of his royal apartment. Everywhere, animals were running amok in panic and confusion, and, it became clear to him as their display continued, anger. He smiled. "She's awake," he murmured to Master Chioké, his head mage.
He sat back down, safe in the knowledge that Veralidaine Sarrasri could not escape his hold. Locked safely in the underground rooms, prevented from magical detection, she would not be leaving until he said so. With Arram Draper already taken care of, and the Tortallan delegation gone in disgrace, war was a certainty, and he had the one weapon that would not only overcome the legendary power of the Dominion Jewel, but that the Tortallans would most likely do anything to regain. Everything was going to plan.
It wasn't until a rude rapping on the door dragged him from reading a particularly prolix document on the effects of the drought on the Empire's most recent territorial gains in the far south and how it could be combated by mining precious minerals for export, that he realised that everything might not be going as well as could be expected.
"Enter!" he snapped.
A bumbling red robe burst into the study, bowing profusely. "Your Imperial Majesty, Sir, Your Highness –"
"Get to it!" Ozorne hissed.
"The girl – she's awake, and the Hall of Bones – the skeletons – they're alive!"
Ozorne dismissed the suggestion with a flick of his hand. "Impossible."
The man shook his head. "I beg your pardon, your Imperial Majesty, but they are. She's cast some spell over them. They're moving. Already they have destroyed the Imperial Storerooms, and are attacking the Treasury."
Could it be that some part of this wild magic that he had once been so scathing of, involved the ability to bring those back to life who had ceased to live? That could explain why the Tortallans were so protective over a girl-child. A weapon indeed. He turned to Chioké.
"Leave," his head mage told him. "I will stay here in case they attack."
Ozorne nodded. He had expected no less from the man. "Come," he told the younger mage. Hurrying through his rooms, he entered the aviary, uncharacteristically silent. "The birds?" he whispered to the red robe.
"Gone, your Majesty."
"No," he whispered. For a moment he lost his balance, leaning heavily on the table which he often used. The table rocked, and the decanter which rested upon it smashed upon the flagstone floor. Silence followed the sound, until he heard a yell outside his rooms. Straightening immediately, Ozorne hurried through the rest of the aviary. With the birds gone, and no time to waste, he used his Gift to punch through the glass walls. Outside, he found two squads of the Palace Guard and Red Legion waiting for him, their weapons raised in readiness. All bowed as he entered the gardens. "We have no time for this," Ozorne informed them tersely. "We must find the girl and control her. Half of you will stay here and protect my rooms." The Palace Guard bowed to him, and returned inside to wait with Chioké.
"And the skeletons, your Majesty?" one of the Commanders asked, as several men made the Sign against Evil on their chests.
"We will kill them," he said simply.
Ozorne snapped his gaze to the man who had dared to interrupt him. The man froze with fear as he realised what he'd done.
"Begging your pardon, your most Imperial Majesty," the man stammered, "but we've tried – nothing works."
"Then you obviously haven't been trying hard enough," he said coldly. Turning to lead the men into the gardens, Ozorne came face to face with the stuff of nightmares. Four large dinosaurs advanced. So the mage had been telling the truth.
"Guards!" he snapped, calling his own Gift to the surface. Muttering a favoured spell and shaping his Gift to correspond, he sent it flying at the huge snake neck. He had to admit, now he saw them, there was no real way that the soldiers could use mere swords and spears on these beasts; the Gift was the only way. The red robe attacked a great four-toothed elephant, as Ozorne rounded on a plated lizard. Only when the final plated lizard was dead did Ozorne glance at his men. Taking a moment to wipe the sweat from his face, he straightened his clothes.
"Come," he told them. Setting a brisk pace, the men followed and fanned around him as they passed through the southern wing of the Palace and into the gardens, heading for the Storerooms, hoping to intercept Veralidaine and her unlikely army. Fighting could be heard at every turn, and clouds of smoke rolled upwards from the Imperial Treasuries.
Suddenly, a familiar figure appeared on the path ahead of them, running towards them, skirts hitched up. Signalling for his guard to lower their weapons, he called out, "Mistress Kingsford!"
The woman froze, glancing nervously from him to the path behind her. "Your Majesty," she said finally, curtseying.
"You look distressed," he said amiably.
Varice glanced over her shoulder again. "I'm just – shocked."
Ozorne nodded his head in polite understanding. "A sight such as this must be distressing for one such as yourself. Especially," he added with a sneer, "after the events of yesterday." He smiled cruelly at the expression which crossed her face before she composed herself. "Have you seen Mistress Sarrasri?" he enquired politely. "I would like a word with her."
Varice shook her head, staring at the ground.
"Come, my dear. You and I both know that is untrue. Unless you'd like to meet the same fate as your beloved Master Draper?"
Wordlessly, Varice pointed across the gardens and towards the Palace. Ozorne smiled coldly. "You shall be rewarded for your actions today," he told her. "Now leave."
Curtseying to him once more, she headed quickly in the opposite direction, her face pale and tear-streaked. Leading the group of soldiers once more, he hurried in the course Varice had pointed to him, running along the paved paths now.
A speech spell crackled to life next to his ear. Halting suddenly, he opened his hands, creating a globe for the spell to flow into. "Emperor," Chioké's voice came.
"What?" Ozorne snapped as he began to walk again. He was only too well aware of how close he was to his prey, and he could not risk losing her now.
"Emperor," the mage repeated. "It's Master Draper – he lives."
The man's voice grew in confidence. "He lives. He was spotted by one of the mages near the Palace. He was looking for his student."
"How can he live? I watched his execution!"
He could hear the fear in his mage's voice. "Maybe she did it, and they became separated somehow."
Ozorne considered this as he closed his globe. For all that it did not seem likely that Veralidaine could raise the dead, she had clearly done so in the shape of the dinosaurs. That meant she could also have raised Arram. He considered this carefully, stroking his jaw line as he walked. It seemed even less likely that Draper would allow himself to become separated from the girl, but if indeed it was the case that he was alive, he might not have brought his complete mind back with him, which would explain that. It was also likely that Veralidaine would lead him straight to Arram. He quickened his pace.
Closer now, he could hear the sounds of the skeletons as they wrought chaos in their path. Finally, after just a few minutes more, he could see them. Signalling his guard to a halt, and composing himself, he called on his Gift, readying his plan in his mind.
"Mistress Sarrasri!" he shouted. The girl, astride a mammoth, froze at his words. "I am somewhat displeased with you. Is this anyway to treat your new home?"
She turned to face him, her small army turning with her. "'New home'?" she spat. "You're sorely mistaken if you think I'm staying here."
Ozorne laughed. "And how do you propose to leave? You're on your own," he pointed out. "And I doubt you could fly the length of the Inland Sea."
"Whether I can or I can't is no business of yours," she snapped. "You – you're nothing but a monster." Her voice became a harsh whisper. "You killed him."
He wondered briefly at her words. Maybe she didn't want him to know yet, in which case, it was best to pretend he didn't. Then the trap could be laid. "It was necessary."
"He did nothing wrong! He followed your pardon to the letter."
"Come now, Veralidaine. That is untrue. He was plotting treason against your Emperor."
"You are not my ruler," she spat. "And if he plotted anything against you, it was because you deserved it."
Ozorne laughed. He saw the girl twist her hands in the mammoth's fur in fury. "And this is your proposed method of vengeance?" he asked lightly.
"It seems to be working," she spat.
He shook his head. How disillusioned the poor girl was. "I think, now that you have shown me the extent of your powers, it is time to come with me."
"Veralidaine, this will be so much easier for both of us, and so much less painful for you, if you come now," he told her calmly, smiling broadly.
"Never," she spat. "You're just a plain monster." She nudged the mammoth forwards, and it broke into a run, charging him. Leaping to the side, and out of the way of the rampaging dinosaurs, Ozorne cast his spell, an emerald green net falling lightly over the girl. Crooking his finger, she lifted from the mammoth's back, suspended in the air, fighting the bonds of his spell.
"Let me go!" she screamed. Her arms and legs flailed furiously, and he closed the weave of the magical net he had created, so it bound her arms and legs to her body. Whispering a few more well chosen words, the girl fell silent and still. Gently, Ozorne lowered the unconscious Veralidaine to the ground and released her from the confines of his spell. "Imprison her," he commanded his men. "See that she does not escape."
"Where should we take her, your Majesty?"
Ozorne frowned. To return her to the underground rooms, where she had once already escaped from, would require both time and his presence, neither of which could be spared with Draper seemingly upon the grounds. Suddenly an idea struck him; a holding place she could make no escape from. No one could escape from, he added smugly to himself. "The Immortals' Menagerie. Hold her there."
The men exchanged uneasy looks with one another before he snapped, "Now! We have to find Draper before the day is finished."
The soldiers scurried into action, dragging the unconscious Veralidaine between two of them. Ozorne followed behind, keen to ensure that this time she was imprisoned correctly. He wanted to activate the spells himself.
Mistress Veralidaine Sarrasri would not slip through his fingers once more. Instead, she would be his bait.