Author's Note: Hi everyone! This is my first Abarat fanfic, and I'll tell you right now that this is a 'what if?' kind of a story. Clive Barker did not intend his characters to do the things I'm making them do, but I promise to hew as closely to his characterizations is possible. I'm presenting you with a different turn of events, but it wouldn't be a fanfiction without the characters we all know and love. Please let me know what you think :)
It was truly the golden age of Abaratian royalty.
All had gathered on this Night to celebrate the birth of Midnight's newest son. Politicians, nobles, scholars, actors, courtesans and courtiers, powerful magicians and their glittering entourages, ambassadors from the Grand Court of the Hours, great generals in their finest dress uniforms, medals glinting in the unnatural light of the Great Hall. The monarchs of the darkest islands had a sense of gravity, even in celebration, but no expense had been spared in preparation for the festivities. Massive tables, carved from the rare, blacker-than-black wood of the Idux tree, dominated the room. Lush velvet tablerunners dressed them – brilliant scarlet, the royal color of Midnight. The hearth roared, bathing all who were gathered with warmth. Wall torches, burning with white flame, brought out the dusky blues of the nearly black stone used to build the hall. Garlands of nightshade had been strung along the walls. Fireflies flitted obliviously inside of large clear orbs suspended from the ceiling. Dinner had already been served, and now that the plates and silverware and finger bowls and used goblets had been cleared away, liveried servants rushed to fill the empty space with tray after tray of sweets and delicacies. Distinguished guests milled about and picked at candied albatross tongues, mouthwateringly tart lavender mushrooms that only grew on Gorgossium one night every three years, giant sea turtle eggs, even a type of fish that guests were warned to eat only a small bite of – anything more would poison the hapless gourmet.
In addition to garlands, the towering stone walls had been draped in elaborate tapestries that were at once beautiful and grotesque; most of them were images of great moments from Nights past. Scenes of horror, scenes of death, scenes of conquest. The grandest, outshining them all in its size and complexity, was hung behind the great dais at which the observer of all these things sat. It was a colossal piece that must have been woven on the largest loom in the Abarat. At first glance, the background seemed all but black, but a closer look revealed blossoming swirls of the darkest blues and greens and purples the night skies could offer, and circular patterns in silver thread that glinted only when viewed from the right angle. But the most amazing component was also the most noticeable, though not immediately familiar to those visiting from the Day islands. The tapestry was an entire map to the heavens, even the minutest of stars, all rendered in precious stones. She recognized Oxhiri, the eagle-king, his constellation instantly familiar due to the large emerald that was his eye-star. Naneh, the goddess who had given her tongue so that speech could be brought to the world, was represented with absurdly brilliant diamonds, as her stars were the brightest in the sky. Gladly she would have continued to browse the patterns, searching for those she knew, but Thant Yeyla Carrion had other plans.
"Witch, to my side. We have matters to discuss." The old woman's voice held no façade of cordiality. The object of her terse words merely sighed.
"As you wish." The absence of a title was deliberate, and did not escape notice.
Mater Motley led the way out of the Great Hall, accompanied by the strange woman she had called Witch. Eyes slid over them as they left; whispers snaked softly in the air. The fearsome matriarch was dressed for the occasion: Voluminous thrice-burned silk, up the back of which was sewn a spine made of real vertebrae to match the real ribs that encased the bodice of the gown like some sort of barbaric breastplate. The crowd parted hastily enough for her, but it was not she who inspired the whispers. It was the figure who followed her, dressed in dove gray robes patterned with silver moons, fringed with softly jangling bells, and a matching hijab wrapped so that it hid all but her eyes.
A flick of her wrist, and the guards closed the doors behind the twosome - the Hag, and the Witch. They walked together, stride for stride, through the corridors of the Night Manor. Servants made themselves quite scarce at the sound of the women approaching. More than once, a secret door would click back into place just as they turned a corner.
"I see you've chosen an unusual amount of modesty," Her lip curled, "Though those ridiculous bells are sickening. Tell me, how has it been?"
The Witch avoided her eyes. "You know perfectly well how it's been. I sought out some of my few remaining colleagues, and it's the same on every Island. A man was nearly beaten to death right in front of me because someone had mistaken his birthmark for the Lion of Nergal." Just summoning the memory made her tremble. Mater Motley looked pleased.
"Times are changing. I'm sure you sense it. These Nights, they are coming to an end. But when I fashion them anew, there will be special room for you and your kind. If they survive long enough. And under certain restrictions, you understand."
"Of course." Said the Witch, newly aware of how desperate her situation was. She might as well be striking a deal with the Devil himself, but the Carrions were an old family, and their empire had always had ample tolerance for even the darkest of magic. At least the humiliations she would soon begin to suffer would also grant her sanctuary.
"What did you find of your, ah, colleagues?"
"Little save for rumors. At this point, I'm sure that those who are not in hiding are dead." The words that spilled from her mouth seemed unreal. She struggled to make the sounds. "It would be best if I did not pry into their whereabouts."
Carrion was indifferent to this news. She had taken her share of lives in the past, and whatever sense of empathy she might have had once had long ago been drowned in blood. "How powerful can your kind be if you can't endure a bit of genocide now and again?"
The Witch swallowed her fury. The only backing out or their deal now would be to kill the old crone, and where would she go then? Who would help her?
The two women had made their way to the deserted Lunar Room of the manor. Rare species of plants and fungi, all of which quite poisonous, thrived under the motherly hands of the resident gardener. Flowers of every color cascaded along trellises, vines straining upward with such fervor that they looked as though they wished to choke the moon itself.
"Have you seen the whelp yet?" Said Mater Motley. She looked around the room, her gaze falling on one unlucky flower. She tore off some of the acid green petals. They smoked in her hand.
"I have." The Witch eyed the petals, though she did nothing to betray her apprehension. The hijab made it easier.
"And? What do you mean?"
The Hag's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I know of the physical requirements you necromancers enforce, even on infants. Would this child meet them?"
The gray-clad woman was silent a moment. "He is big, especially for a later child. All curled up, he was still as long as my forearm. And he turned his head to the sound of my voice, which puts him well ahead of others quite early on. Yes, I would say this child meets the standards of our order."
"Good," she said, "perhaps my son will have finally produced something of value to me."
The Witch immediately felt a deep sorrow wash over her. She knew what the deceptively frail old woman in front of her was capable of, and her attempts at divination had revealed that the Hag had many years yet to poison the world. She thought of the young prince, a temporary flicker of innocence, and could only hope that he would know love, at least in the dawn of his life, when love was the most vital. Fate had been deeply unkind to him in a way he would come to know far too soon.
"You have plans for this particular grandson?" She kept her tone indifferent.
"I may find a purpose to put him to, when the time comes. He must be strong though. His siblings, his father, they are all weak. I have little time to waste on the weak."
"Is that why you would see me crippled so?"
She knew she had pushed it too far when the inaudible crackle of magic suddenly filled the room, pressing on her like a physical being. Like a serpent, the air coiled around her; the more she struggled, the tighter it squeezed. Every breath was hard-won. The feeling was alien to her, but she knew its source. The Hag had her name already, and used it now without compassion. The air was pulled from her, her lungs unable to expand. The Witch was on the floor soon enough. Dizzy. Delirious. Her eyes lolled as she collapsed completely, belly up like a subordinate dog.
The pressure lifted. She gulped air.
"I don't care for your tone." Mater Motley's voice was ice. "Remember, I am doing you a favor. These precautions merely ensure my safety."
"Do you understand me?"
"Well," Motley produced a small wooden box from the sleeve of her gruesome gown, "it would appear, then, that we have reached a milestone, haven't we? I believe it is the perfect time for your gift."
Still dazed and in a heap on the stone floor, the Witch reached up and took it hesitantly. Opening it, she saw two small glass spheres. She plucked them from their satin lined case and sat one in each hand. They were unusually cold to the touch, and felt heavy even though both were roughly the size of human-
"Eyes, my dear. Your new eyes, I should say. You won't be needing your current set, as per our agreement." A ghastly smile scrawled across her face. The woman in gray saw the ceremonial blade glitter in the Hag's hand, and with a sudden cold rush in her gut, she remembered exactly what sort of magic those petals were used for.
She looked up at the moon, pale and beautiful, and remembered the tapestry in the Great Hall as she scanned the night sky hopelessly. She tried to identify as many constellations as she could. Mater Motley had taken on the manner of the long-suffering mother, patting her on the head like an errant child, tsking as she pulled away the fabric surrounding her victim's face. As though she were just doing what was she felt was best. The Witch tasted acid in the back of her throat.
"Trust me; the Dark will do you good."