Spirit of Fire - 4. Mistaken Identity
At the back of the empty classroom, Lucy took a seat, dumping her bag on the floor and folding her arms. School had ended and she was the only one present. There was a hope that she would get away without punishment, but, ultimately, it wasn't a surprise when her fifth period teacher had informed her that she was on afternoon detention. She didn't need a second guess as to why.
It seemed unfair that the consequence for talking back to a manipulative asshole was to have her time wasted, but this was still preferable to letting him interfere with Torsten's life.
It made her think, though.
What does he want, anyway?
She was thinking over what had happened, silent at the back of the classroom, when another student entered. He walked up to the supervising teacher, Mrs Reiner, and handed her a piece of paper. There was a very soft question, too low for Lucy to hear, and the teacher hesitated a moment, then nodded primly in agreement before going back to her grading.
To her surprise, it was Theo.
What is golden boy doing here?
He sat down next to her, a wry shrug of the shoulders as a greeting, depositing his bag on the floor next to the desk.
"How did you end up in detention?" Her question was just above a whisper, beneath the notice of Mrs Reiner.
Theo's response was the same strength of volume, the conversational pitch established. "Wrong equipment and an angry substitute." He shrugged, apathetic. "Can't win them all."
"What, you couldn't charm your way out of it? You're good at that."
"No." He shook his head. "Being charming isn't the answer to everything. Sometimes it's a bad idea. Not everyone likes the friendly approach."
"I don't mind it." Lucy gave a flippant shrug of her own. "But ... if you try that sort of thing on me, I'll slap the suggestion right out of your head." She blinked, doe-eyed. "Just so you understand."
He glanced back to the teacher, making sure she wasn't disturbed by their low-key conversation, and then back, smiling at Lucy sidelong. "Oh, I would never dare, my lady. I already know you aren't the sort to be pushed around."
Mmmhmm. Maybe I'm not being pushed around, but he's still doing a damn good job of convincing me. She definitely approved of the view. This boy is HOT. Wait, though. If Theo doesn't think he can mess with me, does he think he can mess with ... ?
"Yeah, sure," she parried the statement, "but what do you want with him?"
You'd better not pretend like you don't know what I mean.
"I'm glad you're here, because that's what I wanted to ask about." He leaned in, his voice dropping much lower, and she did the same so she could hear him. At the same time, there was a change to his expression; the charisma and confidence seeming to fade a little. Instead, there was a sense of bewilderment that seemed very out of place for Theo, a curiosity, and also ... vulnerability. "Torsten entrances me. I can't say what it is or why, but he has been on my mind since the first moment I saw him, and still," Theo's whisper halted, and he seemed confounded, unsure, "for all the ways I am drawn to him, I cannot tell what he thinks. I had to talk to him that first day in the store. I like him, Lucy. Will you help me find out if he might feel the same?"
Oh. My. God.
She kept herself composed, not showing emotion.
Okay. Alright. Play it cool. Reeeeeal cool.
"Are you serious?" She jabbed him with an index finger, hard enough to bump his shoulder back a few inches. "Because if this is some fucked up game and I find out you aren't, I will cut your balls off and feed them to you. Slowly."
"Yes." A pleading frown at the jab, then a soft assurance to back it up. "I am. It does matter to me. I want to ... know him, and I don't want to upset his best friend."
Is he truthful?
Her eyes narrowed, death-stare on full blast. Her instincts were working overtime, searching for a dishonest sentiment, if there was one to be found, or any illusion.
I think he ... is.
She didn't feel like there was any doubt when she looked at him. Just like her father, she was good at reading others. Theo was uncomfortable at being so open, unsure if he should have said anything, but, fundamentally, he seemed to be honest.
It started to sink in.
He LIKES Torsten.
It was a huge struggle to keep a poker face and not let the edges of her mouth turn up into a great big devilish grin. This was too good. She had a funny feeling about Torsten for a long time, but his ambivalence and vagueness was maddening in how undefined it was. No answers, no confirmation, no nothing. Now, though? Theo was a fantastic candidate to test her theory.
No, scratch that. He is the best candidate.
Therefore, it was up to her to pimp-smack events in the correct direction until the pieces lined up and everything fell into place as it rightfully had to.
"Okay." She folded her arms. "I'm just gonna repeat it. You hurt him, and I'll hurt you even more. So long as you accept that, then I'll help you."
"Great." She stopped a second, to figure out how she wanted to say it. "Torsten is ... different from me in a lot of ways, but there's one thing about us that's the same and it's important to recognise it. He makes up his own mind and you cannot fuck with that. He's independent and he doesn't just follow the majority opinion with no questions. If you want to win him over, you have to work for it and impress him on your own. I can give you advice," she jabbed him again, only gentler, just a tap, "but you have to make it happen."
He nodded, small and sure. "I want to captivate him. I want to touch his heart. What should I do?"
Ohh, Theo. You are the poor romantic fool I've been waiting for.
The situation couldn't get any better.
"Take it slow. Be respectful. He wouldn't like anything dramatic or over-the-top. Don't embarrass him with grand displays of ... anything, or flowery gestures. Keep it simple, traditional. Friends first. Be kind, don't put him on the spot, don't push him. I can get away with that sometimes, but he wouldn't tolerate it with anyone else. Take an interest in his interests. You already know he likes fantasy. He's really good at archery too, though he hasn't been doing it long. Most of all, don't be disappointed if he takes a while to accept what you're trying to do, and that's if he's going to accept it at all. He'll decide what he wants in his own time."
From the front of the room, Mrs Reiner's voice cut into the conversation, the talk prolific enough to have crossed a line where she wasn't prepared to deal with it.
"Lucy, afternoon detention is not for gossip, nor planning world domination." She glared over her glasses at the pair. "I've given you plenty of leeway. You will both face the front and be quiet for the rest of the hour."
"Sorry, Mrs Reiner. Sure thing."
They lapsed into silence, doing as instructed. Theo tapped her arm and she looked across to him. He mouthed 'thanks', his eyes glinting in appreciation.
Oh no, Theo. Thank YOU.
His cellphone was ringing. Nero wasn't fond of using it, the distrust of modern technology a lingering perennial thing, but he retrieved the device and answered it. After all, there was only one person who ever had serious reason to contact him. The others were occupied with their own tasks.
"So," he spoke, the phone to his ear, "what have you to tell me?"
Standing on the porch of his temporary abode, a rental on the outskirts, he listened as the reply was given. Though, realistically, all places were temporary for those associated with the Conclave, in some way or another. They were hunted and would be evermore; this would not change until the outcome was beyond dispute, and their goals brought to fruition. Yet, for Nero, his family and those of his ilk, their lives were not a choice, as there was little to decide between. To act otherwise was to deny their heritage.
How could anybody ignore the body and spirit, the flesh and blood, the very essence of the soul?
It was impossible to forsake, and he could not imagine betraying that which he was born a part of, and beholden to.
"The Conclave has elected to send a message to our enemies: a warning that no alliance can save any from the end that awaits. The Order has been unusually careless with their secrets of late, and we have learned where to find the elder you described. Two of our best assassins were sent; the twins, Taraxes and Kerudath. Our weaker cousins will know the grievous loss of their folly, through death's blade."
"Mmmm," growled Nero, low and satisfied. Those two were experts in their craft. It was not the custom in the current day and age to speak aloud true names of the brethren in such a casual way. Many stray ears were listening for a mention of the Conclave's real identities, but there was enough privacy in this moment that it was not a problem. "Yes. This is heartening. What of the incantation?"
"It cannot be translated so easily." There was a slight lacing of disappointment in the words of his comrade. "The Conclave does not have the means. It is an art to know such language, and one that is now foreign to us, if it were ever truly known."
"How, then?" Nero gazed at the children in the neighbouring yard across a ramshackle picket fence, his feelings turning sour and ill-kept. The brats playing in the dirt were a taunting repartee to match his sentiment. Wretched creatures. "There is no way to proceed without a counter."
"Yes. We must procure a means. It so happens there are two among our enemy who can read the incantation's runes. One is their seeress, Triskeleth." He gave a pause in his reply, almost uncertain about mentioning the second. "The other is ... her."
A chill went through Nero, no further elaboration needed. "I hardly think she will be willing to help."
"Then it must be Triskeleth. How are we to find and force the seeress? Surely, they will hide such a valuable individual somewhere inaccessible and remote. They will know we need her."
"Undoubtedly." The voice on the other end was measured and confident. Always, a plan was in motion, or an eventuality prepared. Risks were taken, but there were never dead ends; just alternatives and twisting paths. "Yet, they remain unaware of the full scope of our advantages. You will attempt the direct approach, as is your style, until more subtle methods are perfected."
The direct approach?
This was what Nero wanted to hear.
"Then," his voice dropped deeper, eager, excited to know the next cause for glory, "you have a target for me? A person, or a place? Tell me what I must do."
"Oh yes, my brother, there is a target, and it is a fortuitous one. The key to finding Triskeleth and the location of the Fear; they are one and the same. The answers lie with a former employee of the Order. He knew the seeress, but he also knew something of the Fear."
"Who?" Nero demanded the answer. "Give me a name."
"He is dead now, though what we need must remain within his findings. It is the very reason we are in this town," came the reply. "Be careful, use stealth, and seek out the legacy of the geologist Terrence Wilde. Do not dishonour us with failure."
"Never, brother," he whispered. "I will see it done."
It was a warm day, the sun high in the noontide, the sky a fantastic blue and nearly cloudless. She was working in the manor's garden, a task that was both enjoyable and relaxing. A tall woman, thin and graceful; noble nose, strong jaw, long straight hair, a pale wintery blue. Piercing eyes, blue also, unnaturally so; incisive and deep, oceanic. On her knees, she dug at the earth with a trowel, turning the soil over to prepare it for planting.
It was a simple joy, to know the land and grow fruit and vegetables from it. What were chores for some were a pleasure for her. It took her mind away from the thoughts that weighed her down, and they were many.
Thoughts that few others in the world would understand.
A sound came from the direction of the road. Surprised, she glanced up, wary at first, but then quickly relaxing again. It was just a car, not anything ... more concerning. The vehicle was an old model and make she didn't recognise; not that she was familiar with the names of manufacturers anyhow, but at least the shape of it was memorable from distant times past. A large black four-door sedan, it looked like a refurbished luxury town car that had to be at least 70 years old, maybe more. Brushing the dirt from her gardening gloves, she wandered across to the section's fence as it pulled up next to the verge, the engine shutting off.
The sole occupant opened the driver's door, and climbed out.
Average height, slightly pudgy, nondescript face except for his fine cheekbones, the man clearly had a liking for the darker colours. Black trenchcoat, black fedora, black trousers and an off-white button-up collar shirt under a red vest; the entire ensemble, in combination with the vehicle, seemed to have emerged from a style that existed decades ago. He didn't look at her initially, instead pulling out a packet of cigarettes and lighting one. Then he rounded the car, approaching 'til he was a couple of feet short of the fence.
"Forgive me." She greeted him. "I don't think I know you."
"Agent Crawley." His voice was deeper than she expected, with the particular rasp of a habitual smoker to it. He glanced around the garden, the manor, the nearby fields, then back to her. He gave a small nod. "Nice place ya got. Pleasant. Quiet. You'd be ... uh, miss? Ms? M'lady?" He floundered for a couple of moments, not sure what form of address to use.
She smiled. "Please, no titles. Just ... Triskeleth." She visually swept him from head to toe once more. "You are here because of the Conclave?"
Crawley snorted, the comment somehow amusing, and then began to cough, blasts of smoke coming out his nose, struggling for breath. "Thought ya knew the future?" He hacked once, clearing his lungs with a mouthful of fresh air, and then went back to the cigarette without pause. "Y'know, the way they speak, makes it sound like yer all-knowing. Would even say 'god-like' but, well, we both know that ain't the truth."
"I would never presume to claim such a mantle." She shook her head. "No, that is far beyond me; it is the realm of others."
"Others." He grunted, unimpressed. "I'll be totally square wi' ya, Mi- ... uh, Triskeleth. I don't like yer type. I don't like that I have to deal with ya 'cause of what's goin' on. It's due to those 'others' that we're all in this gigantic kerfuffle in the first place. Even if ya ain't 'divine'," he placed the word in air quotes, the cigarette dancing with his fingers, "yer all still actin' the part. Bastards to the core, thinkin' yer lords of the castle, better'n all the rest 'cause of what you are." He sniffed, licking his lips, and took another drag. "Fire or water, rock or sky; it's all the same damn thing with you lot. Playin' poker with th' planet while us mere mortals clean up after."
"You have a very low opinion. We never wanted this to happen. We have tried our best to aid you." She sighed, a soft gentle sound, leaning on the garden fence. "I wish you would believe that."
"Maybe. Least yer doin' somethin', I'll admit. More'n can be said for some." He looked away across the fields, the breeze twisting the line of smoulder into curling shapes. "I was there, y'know. When the Order found the eighth piece of the Fear, that is. 2004. It was a hell of a day. Hell of a year, actually. Heard ya helped them track it down." He glanced back to her slyly, questioning. "Any chance we can repeat that?"
"It isn't that simple, Agent Crawley. Some things are beyond my sight. The final ninth piece is lost to me." She paused, considering it, and they stared at one another. "You do realise it is inevitable they find it, don't you? They will complete the circle, one day. The nature of prophecy is inescapable. It has never been wrong."
"First time for everything." His mouth split into a cynical grimace. "Ain't the sort to sit 'round and let the apocalypse happen. Not without a fight. I ain't really here ta squawk 'bout the Fear, neither. I told the Order I'd deliver the news, so here I am, and here it is." He took another drag. "They stole the damn incantation. Now, maybe ya think this is all fate and there's no way out, but my job is all about takin' the impossible and choppin' off the first two letters. They're gonna want ya. They're gonna look for ya. When they find ya, it'll be torture 'til ya break, then ya do what they want, and then ... they'll kill ya. You know better'n me how good those cultist bastards are at gettin' results."
The things they could -- and would -- do, were uniquely unpleasant.
"So, yer gonna need to leave. I'm here to make sure ya do it. Go somewhere far from here. Choose a place nobody knows. Not the Order, not anybody but yer own self. Force the Conclave to search every little corner of the country."
She really didn't want to do that, but she knew she had to. It was what the lady would expect of her. Regardless about how inevitable she believed it was, the enemy was the enemy and she would not play into their hands by making it easy. What Crawley was asking was expected and sensible.
"I have a place I can go." She nodded to him, pulling off her gardening gloves as she talked. "Though, you came a long way just to deliver a message like this."
"Well, the Order has a terrible track record recently." He shrugged, turning, and began to slowly walk round to the driver's side, the cigarette nearly finished. "Want somethin' done right, do it yerself. Words ta live by." He opened the door and looked across to her. "That, and I wanted ta meet ya. Might be the last chance I get. See for myself what the great Triskeleth is like."
"She ain't nothin' special." The reply was dismissive and derisive, but behind it, she could see, hidden amid the mistrust and dislike, a tiny sliver of respect. A grudging small thing that was bare acknowledged, but it was there. He gave a tiny nod, the merest show of civility, and tipped his fedora to her. "Farewell, seeress. Best of fortune to ya, in whatever yer future brings."
He climbed into his car, then moments later the engine started and it began to circle around, and drive off. In less than a minute it was out of sight, the afternoon becoming still once more. Triskeleth watched the dust settle, heart heavy and mind full of the burden she carried.
She did not know how long it would be, but she knew that it had begun.
They had the incantation.
The end was coming.
During the next couple of weeks, the strange things in my life stayed unexplained. The dragon continued to grow at an alarming rate. After the first week, it was bigger than a large adult Great Dane, and by the end of the second, it had reached a similar size and mass to a small pony. The dog bed was gone, not suitable any more, and a pile of blankets had been laid down instead. While there was still room inside the shed for it to be comfortable, I shifted a lot of the cluttered contents into the attic to make space. Whatever was easily flammable or taking up floor area, I found another home for it.
Food was also starting to be a concern. The butcher had been fine giving me more offcuts, but as its appetite increased, I knew the story of feeding growing puppies would wear thin fast if I was going back for more every day or two. Still, the dragon seemed to be content with how things were going, and even though it was basically stuck indoors, it wasn't unhappy. I guessed at a younger age, the feeling of being in a lair was appealing; a dark confined space, a source of food and a guardian figure that provided it with some attention probably appealed to its racial instincts. I had no idea what 'racial instincts' really meant with a creature like this, since my favourite fantasy novels that included dragons weren't actually a scientific guide on how to raise them, but it seemed I was doing okay so far.
Regardless, what was going to happen to it in the future was definitely stressing me out. I lost some sleep over it, and I was sure Lucy was noticing that I was more tired than normal. She kept her word and didn't bug me about it, and I continued to keep mine too.
I don't know what it was, but his behaviour changed after he had made Brittany leave us alone in the school cafeteria. It wasn't anything major, but it felt like he had backed off a bit. He was acting more like a normal teenager, and less the mystery that he'd been when I first encountered him. We would text a lot, almost as much as I did with Lucy, and I found he had a very dry sense of humour and a sharp wit. He joined us a couple of times after school, when a few of us would kick around a soccer ball on one of the empty fields until we got bored and went home. He was definitely as athletic as he appeared to be, and while he was fast, he had little finesse with ball control, though great at blocking; well-suited for defence. I was accustomed to a balance and had stamina, making me a good match for midfield, while Lucy was extremely fast with the footwork and great at trick shots. Whenever we played sides, if all three of us were on the same team, we were basically unbeatable.
It was a lot of fun.
He began to sit with us every day at lunch too, and it didn't escape my notice that he always managed to find a spot next to me. He kept the way he was acting very incognito, and I was sure the other less-aware members of our social group weren't seeing it, but I could tell he was giving me special attention. He never pressed it though, and weirdly, Lucy also never said anything. Just as I could tell that he was giving me space, she must have been able to as well, but she was also showing an extraordinary amount of self-discipline in not bugging me nor dropping the sort of hints I'd expect from her.
Still, as I walked home on a Thursday afternoon, sweater draped over my arm in the warmth, a bit sweaty from running around the sports field, I was thinking about everything, and I had come to a strange conclusion. I wasn't expecting to feel anything different; maybe happiness that I was making a new friend, or enjoyment because of attention paid to me, or just flattered that I was important to someone else.
But, I was beginning to like it.
I couldn't quite explain it, but I wanted to keep Theo's attention. He was funny, he was interesting, he was easy to hang out with, he was respectful of me and my space. I knew he was interested in me; to deny that was to be completely blind to what was happening. He was doing everything right, and on top of that, he was ... good-looking. He was a bit more muscular than me but not too bulky; one of those strong almost-but-not-quite-football-player builds, tall for our age, probably 6'1, and with pleasant masculine facial features that seemed to soften a little at the edges. I knew girls thought he was hot, and objectively I had no problem agreeing with that, but ...
... what did I feel?
Whatever was happening, I wanted it to continue.
I just didn't know yet if my attraction was physical, emotional, or ... nothing at all.
This is so confusing. Being a teenager sucks.
I walked past Mrs Sterling trimming the hedge out the front of our property. It was the same as the one in front of hers, the row continuing unbroken along both houses. She enjoyed gardening, and I had seen her tend to ours many times, something my mother was grateful for and happy to let her continue doing. The blades of the clippers sliced rhythmically, and she looked up as I went by.
"Good afternoon, dear."
"Afternoon, Mrs Sterling." I smiled politely, and opened the front gate. As I was closing it, there was the sound of a vehicle, and I glanced up to see a courier van pull up to the curb. The engine stopped, the driver's door opening, and the driver climbed out.
I didn't know what it was, but in that split second, something made me extremely nervous. Just the sight of this man triggered a gut reaction. Before I saw his face, I had a glimpse of his back; tall, strong, serious and no-nonsense, very short brown hair swept away from his temples, dressed in the courier company uniform.
In that moment, there was something about him that seemed wrong.
It was only a hunch, but it was very powerful and all my instincts were telling me not to let him near me.
I couldn't stand there.
I dropped to the ground just as he was turning to look at our property, going out of sight.
The van door closed and there were footsteps. I pulled myself closer to the fence, and twisted so I was comfortably prone, then found a teeny gap in the hedgerow that lined up. The footsteps came closer, and the man strode past my view. He was carrying a parcel, and just as he was about to reach the gate, I heard Mrs Sterling speak up.
"Oh, hello young man." Her voice was as unassuming as ever, high and wavering. "Are you looking for someone?"
There was the light clink of the latch and I could see his hand resting along the top bar, even as I lay there, just out of sight. My heart was pounding, my bag clutched to my chest, and I lay frozen.
"Yes." His voice was deep and sober. "I have a parcel for the Wilde household. This is the correct address?"
"Oh, yes!" Her voice rose in agreement, and the latch clinked again as his fingers pressed at the top of it, about to lift it and push the gate open.
Don't come in. Please don't come in.
"You can leave the package with me," she went on, a merry sing-song intonation. "I'll make sure they get it."
The hand on the latch stopped. "It is a delivery for Ms Wilde, not anybody else." There was no hostility in the voice, but the answer was very definite, very specific.
"Oh no, dear." I saw her totter along closer to him. "It's not a problem. Natalia has me co-sign sometimes so she doesn't need to worry about it. It's quite safe."
"All the same," he countered, his fingers grasping the latch once more, "I will deliver it to this residence."
She laughed, a high-pitched titter. "Now, that wouldn't be right, son." At the finish of that sentence, her voice changed, and it became firm and quite unyielding, the oscillating seniority vanishing. "There is nobody here, so if you have something to deliver, I will take it. If not," she went on, and I heard the snick of the shears flicking shut, "you should leave."
What the ... ?
I couldn't fully see either of them, and there was silence for another few seconds, but then I heard an irritated grunt. "I'll come back another time." The hand pulled away from the gate, and there were footsteps and a glimpse of him as he returned to the courier van.
"Oh, of course. You have a lovely day." As if nothing was different, she continued speaking as earlier, calling out to him as he left. "Bye bye!"
The engine started and in a few moments, the van was cruising off down the street. Not more than thirty seconds later, I heard her voice.
"You can get up now."
I stood, slowly, my legs cramping slightly from the afternoon soccer and lying in such a weird position. Mrs Sterling was gazing at my direction, shears under her arm, secateurs in hand as she pruned some of the stray branching hedge shoots.
"Don't you worry, I wasn't going to let him see you."
"Mrs Sterling-" I started, but she quickly interrupted me.
"Best you go inside now." She pointed me in the direction of our front door. "I doubt he's going to come back soon, but you can't trust ruffians these days. Everyone has a trick up their sleeve, don't they? So go on and get, and stay there for a while."
"Go!" She shooed me, and confused, I started moving, but then she spoke again. "You're a good boy, but you shouldn't forget how dangerous wild animals can be."
I looked back at her, not sure what to make of all of this.
Why does this shit keep happening to me?
"Go inside." She said it very soft and serious. "Don't let your curiosity get the better of you. You don't have nine lives, Torsten."
For once, I didn't question further. I marched up to the front door, unlocked it, went in, and drew it swiftly shut.
What is going ON?
The home was a grand one. Dozens of rooms, dozens of passages and chambers. It was an old estate building, from the era of the civil war or earlier. Paintings from the early modern era were hung on the walls and ornate colonial-replica furniture filled the halls and entryway. The security systems were lax or non-existent; Kerudath killed two guards and his brother one more. Slit throats, it was entirely too simple and easy.
Both knew they were in the right place to find someone strong, an individual worthy of their skills, and they avoided the service routes, not particularly interested in collateral death of servants. It took only minutes after disabling the video feed and circumventing the watchdog devices before the twins met together at the expected room, the location of the target.
It was a study, overlooking the garden.
They entered together.
The room was large, bookcases lining the walls, chairs and a low table in the centre, a desk to the side, paintings and light fixtures on the walls, a chandelier above. Thick plush carpet on the floor, a dark burgundy. There was a window on the outside wall, and it was there, watching through it, that their target stood.
She wore a silken blue-white gown, hooded. Her back was to them when they entered, and she turned immediately. A veil was across her face, a half-transparent opalescent hue, the features hidden behind it, and she did not move from where she stood. The twins themselves were clad in tight leather, appropriate for their profession, dark reds, browns and black, and Kerudath stepped forward first, his blade unsheathed in hand.
"You conspire with lesser scum, these clueless infidels of the so-named Order." Kerudath bowed to her, eyes still forward upon his target, the dagger-arm to the side in greeting. "So we come, to deliver your life to our father as penance."
There was no reply.
"It is the Lady Shiba, is it not?" Taraxes drew his dagger also. "The ritual blades are ready for your sacrifice. Tell us, do you wish to offer your true name before the end?"
"No." It was but a murmur, but she spoke, a mild utterance. "Does it matter?"
"It does not." Kerudath grinned, advancing, his dagger ready, voice an undertone. "Elder or younger, lesser or greater, you are given to his glory." Nimble, he leaped and danced over the furniture in a superhuman athleticism. Behind and moments after Taraxes began to move also, following the motions of his twin in mirror image across the hindrances of the room. With a speed beyond human comprehension, Kerudath landed next to her, his dagger-arm slicing across the throat. It was on target, the blade hitting where it was aimed, except-
-her hand halted it.
"Child," she whispered, the blade motionless, harmless in her grasp, "your 'father' has no power here."
The blade turned crystalline blue from her touch, then white. The ice spread through the weapon into the bodily form of Kerudath, head to toe, imbuing him, solid and statuesque.
In moments it was done.
The Lady Shiba gave a flick of her fingers.
The sculpture of Kerudath shattered into a million pieces, shards scattered upon the carpeted floor.
Taraxes arrived before her, his own blade ready, muscles tensed, yet the momentum was halted by shock. "You! You murdered my brother! You are the-"
From her, a pulse of intense blue light burst, an expanding orb of it blasting through the room. Loose items were thrown free, lamps and chairs knocked over, the electricity flickering for a second. Taraxes dropped his weapon, rendered paralytic, and the Lady Shiba spoke once more.
The command in her voice was impossibly strong, the dominion etched into it utterly irresistible. He fell to his knees, staring up, hatred and dread filling his mind. Looming above, she raised a hand and removed the veil from her face.
The terror he felt was complete and consuming.
"There is no protection for you." Her voice was soft, toneless. "Your dreams are simply dreams."
"Lady." His own words were a heavy whisper, vibrating with the strength of his anguish; his rage and fear. "It was foretold. We will return the real fire to this world. Not even you can stop this."
"I will destroy the Conclave, one by one." Her left hand brushed his cheek, and gently gripped his chin. Taraxes shuddered. "You will help me do it. Hear and obey." The dominant force of her will pushed into him, crushing his freedom, bringing low his burning desires, and he broke, all but the most primitive resistance destroyed. "You will never raise a hand to me again. You will tell me their true names, each and every, to the last."
Outside, the darkened cloudy sky rumbled.
It began to rain.
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