The Black Ankh
by Laura Campbell, aka Shadow of Light Dragon
Mellorin allowed herself a slight smile. So Elora wanted to fight, did she? Good. "I'd have hated to have gone to all this trouble only to find it completely unnecessary," she murmured, her smile widening as she watched her double begin her return to the fort on the Isle of Fire with her battle-weary friends. "Friends," she whispered, her lip curling into a sneer and her green eyes narrowing. "You'll have none by the end of this, Elora. They will be mine, alive or dead." She sent her magical Viewing spell up to the battlements of the fort where stood the leather-armoured, sword-bearing King of Britannia. "Including you...my Lord."
Lord British turned his blue eyes skyward as if he'd heard a familiar voice call him, a small frown creasing his brow. Beside him, Iolo the bard stood smiling in satisfaction at the Britannians' victory over the small force that had assaulted the fort.
"Hello, Richard," Mellorin whispered out loud, ghost-like, grinning.
His frown deepened and one hand reached out to touch Iolo's arm. As the king's mouth spoke words inaudible to Mellorin's spell, the bard's smile faded and he glanced around warily, crossbow held ready.
Mellorin laughed softly. "Don't worry, dear friend. Your time will come."
He gave no indication that he had heard, so she returned to her contemplation of Elora. The undead Avatar stood on the field, no expression on her face but worry in her eyes.
"Virtues...what am I becoming?"
What a time for her to start projecting her thoughts...it was the perfect opening and Mellorin needed no urging to deepen her double's growing self-loathing.
Her jaw tightened slightly and a shudder seemed to go through her. "Virtues preserve me..."
Mellorin smiled darkly and drew back, never relinquishing the look of pain in Elora's eyes as she withdrew to a safe distance from which she could gloat without being mistakenly overheard. All of a sudden there was a shattering, mental roar in her mind, and her body back in the Deep Forest instinctively tried to cover her ears. Her control over her View spell slipped, then broke as an abrupt, frightening image of a scarlet visage with sharp teeth and eyes of flame seemed to fly straight into her face, fire spewing from its maw.
Snapping back to herself, she quickly forced her mind back to calmness. It hadn't been the Guardian, as she'd initially thought...a dragon?
Mellorin turned in response to the name. "Yes? Mariah. Did you find him?"
The red-haired mage sighed. "No. Should I keep looking?"
"Get a few hours sleep, first. You've been searching non-stop since you got here."
She nodded and touched one hand to her eyes. "Some sleep would be welcome, but art thou sure we can spare it? If thy double is looking for Shamino as well-"
"I don't think she is, yet - I haven't felt her teleport. Have you?"
"No." She covered her mouth and yawned.
"Get some sleep. I'll scry the western Deep Forest, for now."
Mariah suddenly seemed much more awake. "But...that will leave the eastern side unwatched!" she protested. "I'll keep on in the west," she went on before Mellorin could do anything more than frown, "and thou stayest east. We'll find him."
Probably not, Mellorin thought to herself, grinning as Mariah turned away and started back to where Tseramed and Sentri were building a campfire. Even if we did, we wouldn't tell me about it, would we? She followed Mariah to the camp. "We won't stay here much longer," she told her three companions softly, crouching near the fire to warm her hands. "It's been too long and there is much to do. We can't let Britannia suffer at the hands of the invaders for the sake of finding one person." She lowered her eyes. "Even if it is a good friend."
Tseramed nodded, but Sentri asked, "Wouldst thou leave him to Mellorin's mercy?"
"If he's hiding in the Deep Forest - which I still think he is - then I don't think she'll find him. If we couldn't, being his friends, then she won't stand a chance."
Mariah let out a deep breath and sat down on a flat rock. "Where and when will we go?"
"I haven't decided yet...I'm not exactly sure, but I'll let you know when I do. What's that, Tseramed?" she added, inclining her head at the chunks of meat the archer was spearing onto several long sticks.
"Venison." He stuck one of the sticks in the ground so the meat hung above the fire. "I brought down a stag earlier today."
Later, when night fell, the men kept watch and Mariah scried the western side of the Deep Forest, Mellorin sent her sight out to the seas around Jhelom. Upon reaching the Atarkan fleet waiting to sweep the Valorian Isles clean, she located the commanding officer - a daemon - and sent the message to attack. "Take as many prisoners as you can, Commander," she reminded him, her thought-voice threatening. "Corpses are of no use to me - yet."
She waited a minute to watch the ships raise anchor, then returned to her body.
Someone was waiting for her when she got there.
"So...where are you going next?"
"Why don't you leech my thoughts and find out for yourself?"
There was an ominous silence.
"Sorry," she thought grudgingly. "I'm tired. I don't have Elora's advantages."
The wind rustled the thick evergreen canopy overhead.
"I was actually thinking of leaving these three here for the night while I go look for Jaana in Trinsic. It's about time we move on to destroying the Shrines, don't you agree? I wanted to start with Spirituality - I thought that might be nicely symbolic, in some way - but I have a better plan for Shamino. He'll have to come last."
"The druidess knows of you. She won't go willingly."
Mellorin shrugged. "So? If I plan to kill her as soon as I get her out of Trinsic, that doesn't matter."
"Don't forget the rest of the ritual in your haste to destroy your once-time friends, Mellorin."
"And don't forget your priorities, either. Your task is to get British. The Shrines are unnecessary."
Mellorin sighed. "As you wish. In two days, Serpent's Hold will be attacked again. When Elora goes to the rescue I'll use the Blacksword to get to the Isle of Fire, grab His Majesty, then take him to the Isle of the Avatar, as you specified."
"If Elora is searching for her friend tomorrow, why not take him then?"
"Because," she explained patiently, trying to placate the anger she was hearing, "tomorrow I plan to kill Mariah and, if time allows, Geoffrey. I really wish the ritual didn't take so long, but it is practise for Richard."
"You are leaving a lot to chance, Mellorin," was the disapproving reply. "What if the Avatar takes British to Serpent's Hold with her?"
Mellorin sighed. "Does it really matter where I kill him?"
"Do I really need to answer that again?"
She winced. "No...please don't. I understand."
"He had better not escape. Now go, and mask your teleporting like I taught you."