The Black Ankh
by Laura Campbell, aka Shadow of Light Dragon


Interlude


"Where is the Lady Jaana?" Mayor Finnigan of Trinsic demanded. "Doth anyone know?"

Spark didn't. No one in the city knew. The druidess seemed to have vanished. She hadn't been seen for almost three days, and the young squire was worried. Jaana could fend for herself very well, he knew, but she hadn't told anyone she was leaving. It wasn't like her.

And it left Trinsic minus a powerful healer and mage.

"Damn," Finnigan said when the warriors shook their heads. He paced before them like a caged wolf, his dark violet cape swirling. "Very well. Dismissed. Captain Hanuk, a word with thee."

The warriors returned to their duties, which mostly involved manning the battlements. The invaders weren't attacking; they'd camped to the north and had overrun the port to the east. A smaller force had gone south towards the stone circle over a week ago and hadn't returned. Spark supposed they were guarding it, but had no idea why that was so when the moongates no longer functioned.

He wished he'd gone to the Isle of Fire. That's where the Avatar and Lord British and all his friends had gone. They were all fighting the Guardian and he was here, polishing armour and running errands.

"Squire!"

Spark blinked, realised that he was the only one in the square apart from Finnigan and Hanuk, then quickly approached the former and bowed. "Sir?"

Finnigan handed him a folded parchment. "Takest this to Sergeant Deryn at the north gate, and step on it."

Spark stifled the simultaneous desires to groan and ask, "Before or after I give it to him, sir?" and ran up the paved road with the message in his fist.

Hm. Hanuk hadn't looked too happy.

He glanced down at the parchment. It wasn't sealed. Finnigan might have written it on the spot...

What would Elora have done?

Spark slowed down, thinking.

Well... she had opened that message Batlin had asked her to take to Minoc.

Spark glanced back to make sure Finnigan and Hanuk weren't watching before ducking between two houses. He leant back against the brickwork and caught his breath, inserted a finger between a parchment fold... hesitated.

This would mean breaking his oaths. The message might be nothing.

"If it's nothing, I'll confess to reading it," he muttered, "but if it's someth-"

Words failed him as he read the parchment.

'Deryn,

We have no choice and Hanuk agreeth with me. Our food stores are depleted. If we don't act now we will starve and Trinsic will fall. This way at least, we might live to see what will happen next.

Finnigan"

Spark's mind raced as he refolded the missive. This certainly wasn't nothing, but he didn't know what it meant. Surrender? Escape? Attack?

He muttered something that would have earned him a reproachful look from even Sir Dupre, and peered out into the street. Finnigan and Hanuk were nowhere to be seen, so he set off towards the north gate again. A few minutes later he was waiting outside the gatehouse as a guard went up to the battlements to get Sergeant Deryn.

He could see through the portcullis from here; there were a lot of soldiers outside.

Deryn came down and asked for the message. Spark handed it over as casually as possible, then tried to look nonchalant as it was unfolded and perused.

Had Jaana known this would happen, whatever it was? Was this why she'd left?

Spark stayed where he was standing as Deryn walked off to the barracks, wondering why he hadn't been dismissed. He watched the sergeant disappear within and frowned. Deryn had been on the Trinsic Guard for longer than Spark had been alive. Hook-nosed, dark of eye and hair, quiet, seldom rattled. So long as he didn't catch Spark doing something he disapproved of, they got along fine.

Hanuk had looked worried, Spark remembered. Deryn hadn't even blinked.

When the sergeant returned a moment later, he still looked calm. He gave Spark a level look, a new parchment, said, "The Virtues keep thee safe," then strode back into the gatehouse.

How odd.

He noticed this message was sealed. The impression of an ankh in Trinsic's purple wax meant this was for Jaana, and Spark had already run half a block before he remembered she was gone. He pulled up short with another muttered curse.

What was the sergeant playing at? He knew she was gone as well.

He turned around to run back, then paused. A split second later he was shaking his head. He couldn't open this one. His curiosity didn't extend to opening the Avatar's companions' mail.

But with Jaana gone... he was the only one who could be considered a companion of the Avatar in all of Trinsic.

He stared down at the ankh seal, then up at the battlements.

Deryn was watching from above the gatehouse. He caught the squire's eye, nodded once, then looked the other way.

Spark broke the seal and opened the missive.

'The password for the south gate is 'Ironwrought'. Leave Trinsic now. Takest the other squires with thee.'


Arcadion brooded in his crystalline prison. Elora had run away? How interesting... and unusual. He'd half-expected her to sally forth with another 'Vas Corp' on her lips, or at least transport herself to a different Britannian location. But leave?

Interesting.

Oh, she'd come back; she wasn't one to quit, but how soon? Undead, she was the next best thing to the immortal and the unliving.

It almost made him want to curse the magic that tied him to Mellorin. What he could have accomplished in Elora's undead hands! Her powers amplified a hundredfold... more... and he to direct it. He to influence her. She'd listen to him. Being a daemon, he was the only one who'd 'understand what she was going through'. He'd be sympathetic and wise. He'd offer guidance and encouragement. She'd come to trust him. To depend on him?

He grinned to himself, playing out the fantasy in his mind. And with that bracer, the planes would have been theirs for the killing.

Would have.

Instead he was bound to a mortal who was in turn bound to the Guardian. It had its moments. Killing Mariah and Jaana had been two definite highlights, and he was looking forward to Lord British, but in Mellorin's grasp he'd always be a servant.

In Elora's he could have been the master.

She'd never have freed him; who'd want to give up powers such as he had? But he would have been prepared to sacrifice freedom in exchange for unlimited power... and his own Avatar.

He had few pleasures in this mundane existence, and speculation was one of them. Now he thought about the heart-jewel of the aeth'raesh'al. He understood what he'd heard in the conversations between Mellorin and the Guardian. What would Elora have done if her double had been born of a white kel'al? He laughed softly at her imagined consternation. The Guardian never would have done such a thing - a pure, good Avatar would have been impossible to corrupt. But what would Elora have done? Probably gone on at her perfect double about how you couldn't be human without having daemons, he thought with a smirk. Yes, that was her.

Arcadion prided himself on understanding humans better than humans did. They thought humanity meant making mistakes and doing evil. "I'm only human." As if it was an excuse. No, he knew better. Humanity meant being able to make mistakes - having the choice. Humans just liked being daemons. They liked the dark. They didn't want to consider life without it.

Humans. They lamented their own faults, condemned others for theirs, yet they'd never accept being perfect. The idea was unthinkable.

That was why the darkness would always ultimately triumph.

With an odd twinge, he thought Elora would appreciate this insight. Perhaps... she might even understand.

He shook himself mentally and grimaced.

How would that help her?

He growled.

Not that he wanted to help her. Even if he did, it would do her no good. He knew what her future held. She would murder. She would drown a world and set it on fire. She would steal their magic and destroy their beliefs, then walk away without a backward glance.

For a moment, these thought gave him pause.

In the depths of the volcano Morgaelin, had he met Elora or Mellorin?
 



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