Lineaments of Coming Night

Part XXI

Phil was not reclining on the divan when Marquis Camille du Tournemire returned to the rabbit’s solar. Instead, the lapine was standing upon the balcony, pink nose turned up to the sky and sniffing at the sea air with a deep longing. On the far side of the solar, Lothanas Lycias was consulting a musty tome that he’d placed atop a lectern. Rupert waited inside the doorway, where Commodore Pythoreas stopped as well.

“It is good to see you again, Camille,” Phil called out from the balcony. “Please, join me here if you would.”

The Marquis smiled to both the old soldier and to the great ape before he walked briskly to the balcony. The air was blistering in the afternoon sun which sparkled on the water like millions of dancing fireflies engaged in courtship. Camille rested his forearms on the alabaster railing, and let his face soak in the sun. “It is an honour to be brought back into your presence, your highness. Thank you for the rooms you allowed me. They are very well apportioned.”

“That is good.” Phil gestured his hand out at the waters. “Camille, you probably do not understand just the way a man of Whales sees the water. You live on the coast, I know, but I suspect you are still more comfortable on land. The sea is ever shifting, ever changing, but at the same time, it is solid, a foundation that remains and always returns, no matter how turbulent it may become.

“With land, men claim it, and own all that is on it, and all that lay beneath it as well. But not with the sea. The sea, you can claim a stretch of it, but beneath the surface of the water, you can only glimpse. The sea keeps its secrets safe beyond the reach of men. Only the bravest of wizards would dare breach that inviolate barrier.”

Phil turned then, his soft eyes boring into the Marquis. “All my life, I have courted the sea as a suitor courts a lady. And now, you tell me that seas that are so inviting must be feared. That a part of the sea I consider amongst the most beautiful is poisoned. You may not understand completely, but you will understand some how hard a message that is for me to hear.”

Slowly, the Marquis nodded, before looking up into the sky. “For a very long time, I did not want to believe what a part of me was screaming. I did not want to believe the danger, and it has cost us so much already. Do not make my same mistake. I shall be paying for it the rest of my life. You should not have to do the same.”

Phil did not say anything just then, but once more looked into the sky. Overhead, a massive shape came into view from the North. Camille stared at it, not truly surprised by its appearance, but nevertheless amazed. The dragon circled lower in the sky, bit by bit nearing the castle.

“Heraclitus,” Phil announced. “He is one of the dragons of Whales. He rather enjoys carrying messages back and forth. He’s been doing it for two hundred years in fact.”

The Marquis smiled and nodded, taking a deep breath. “Remarkable. You have a very lovely kingdom, your highness.”

“Thank you.” Phil turned away from the balcony and stepped back into the solar. Tournemire followed him. “There is more that we must discuss though. Please, sit.”

Camille took the same place in the depression he’d had before, reclining comfortably. Lycias joined them a moment later, smiling politely as he sat. Phil climbed up onto his side, being careful of the claws that he sported. “Now,” Phil began, “have you uncovered any means to test whether a person has been corrupted by Marzac?”

“Apart from Cardinal Geshter and Bishop Jothay, I have not been in the presence of any who have been to Marzac. So of those methods that have been postulated, I do not know if any would work. But I would be happy to share them with you for your own benefit. Still, I warn you, your highness, I do not know if any actually work.”

“Where did you discover your methods?” Lycias asked, running one hand along his chin.

“In my study, there have been moments where the authors have ruminated on ways to recognize the power of the Underworld. Tests I have considered are based on those thoughts.”

Both Phil and Lycias were attentive while the Marquis described three different ways to determine if a man had been corrupted by Marzac or not. Their weaknesses were all similar though, since a person who was being tested could hide the Underworld presence if they knew that they were being observed. Mage sight was insufficient. Even the most powerful artifacts of the Underworld could cloak themselves if they wanted to. There really was no way to be sure, unless they were lucky.

Unsurprisingly, the Marquis’s explanations were not satisfying. He knew they wouldn’t be, but there was little more he could do about it. “I am sorry,” he said at last, “I wish I knew more, but...” He spread his hands before him helplessly.

“Perhaps there will be an opportunity for that,” Lycias said with a comforting smile. “We have an extensive library here in Whales. Is it possible that you could stay for several days more? We together can study the older tomes and perhaps find better solutions than just those?”

The Marquis at first allowed himself to appear perplexed, and then, slowly, his face altered until he was smiling and nodding with a pleasantly hopeful expression. “Yes. There are matters in Pyralia that I need to attend to, but a delay of a few days should not matter. And if we find something useful, they could matter a great deal, but for oce in our advantage. I can stay here in Whales for a few days then.”

“You may continue to use the East Room,” Phil offered, “if that would satisfy you.”

“It would indeed. Thank you, your highness.” Tournemire bowed his head gratefully towards the rabbit. But just as his head was at its lowest, the sound of a firm knocking came at the door.

By the time the Marquis had lifted his head once more, and was able to look behind him, Rupert had opened the door and a young page was carrying a heavy scroll case forward. “Pardon the intrusion, your highness, but this message just arrived from Breckaris.”

The Marquis’s eyebrows rose. “If you do not mind, your highness, I would like to hear what news there is from my homeland.”

Phil’s ears rocked slightly. “Of course not. Rupert!”

The great ape lumbered from his place by the doorway. Gingerly, he took the scroll case from the harried youth, opened it with a delicacy more suited to a lady than to a massive primate, and then spread the parchment for Phil to read. The rabbit stared inquisitively at the page for several moments, his eyes scanning the lines, reading it to himself first. His ears rose, and he sat a little higher in his seat as he read.

“What? Bishop Hockmann has left Breckaris with an army under his command.”

“What!” The Marquis shouted, jumping form his seat. His hands trembled and he shook his head. “No, that cannot be. Where is this army headed? Does the message say?”

Phil continued to read. “Sathmore. My source thinks the y are headed for Silvassa.”

“No, no, no! He’s going to destabilize the entire continent. Oh this is not good. This is not good.” The Marquis paced back and forth quickly, rubbing his hands together, eyes wild with sudden fright. “I have to do something about this. How long did the message take to reach us?”

Phil had been watching the Marquis keenly, and sympathetically. Whenever ill news reached his ears of matters in Metamor he had begun to fret helplessly as well. “It says that the army left Breckaris a week ago.”

The Marquis took a deep breath. “There isn’t much time then. They won’t have reached Sathmore yet. Maybe I can...”

“You won’t be able to stop this army,” Phil pointed out, glancing once more at the parchment to read the rest of the message. “You know that. What do you hope to accomplish?”

“I may not be able to stop all of the army,” the Marquis said by way of agreement. But then his frown deepened. “But the Bishop would not be able to make an army strong enough to take Silvassa without having asked for forces from other cities. There are undoubtedly some of my fellow lords and ladies from western Pyralia that have donated. It was I who brought in the Southlands mages that helped us defeat the Sutt armies. So I still have some leverage with them. Hopefully I can get them to pull back their own forces. If I hurry, we might be able to force the Bishop’s army into a retreat before too much blood is spilled.”

The Marquis stilled his hands and took a deep breath. “But I am afraid I have to leave as quickly as a ship can be spared. If I am to have any hope of success in this, I must leave now.”

Lycias frowned at this, but nodded his head. “I fear we must send his grace back to Pyralia now. If there is any good he can do to stop this army, we must help him do it. Should Pyralia strike, then Sathmore will undoubtedly strike back.”

“Yes, you are right. Commodore Pythoreas, select a ship to have Marquis du Tournemire and his men taken to Sutthaivasse. The fastest currently docked.”

“That would be the Miletus,” Pythoreas said gravely. “I shall see them to it personally.”

“Camille, go with Commodore Pythoreas. The Miletus is a fast ship and should bring you to Sutthaivasse inside a week. I wish you could stay longer, but if there is any good we can do, we must do it.”

Tournemire nodded slowly, turning fully to the prince. “I hope that you will listen to my warning about Marzac. It is even more important.”

“I have, and we shall be cautious. My the seas be swift and the wind at your back.”

“And at yours,” the Marquis bowed his head, acknowledged Lycias once, and then followed the aged Commodore out of the solar. It was done.

Long House was bustling with activity. Many of the Long Scouts and their families were in the Long Hall cleaning out the banners and festive decorations. Charles winced as he saw Caroline and Arla taking down the sign that read, “Welcome home, Matthias!” Fates indeed were cruel. If he had a stomach, he would surely have thrown up in misery.

Kayla had come with him to Long House, though neither were likely to stay for as long as he would. Habakkuk and James had headed directly to Lindsey’s place once they had left the Lightbringer Temple. Charles had invited James to come with him to the Long House, but James had declined, not knowing what in the world he might need from there. It was not that he declined that hurt Charles so, but the manner in which the donkey had done so. There had been a devastated hopelessness in his friend’s equine voice. And when Charles had stepped out of the temple doors, still made of stone, he’d seen James’s face fall from a hopeful expectation to sorrowful fatalism. Though he assured his friend that with the woman’s death he’d be flesh once more, there was something about the rat being stone that just upset the donkey too greatly for words.

That was a problem he would have plenty of time to confront, the rat reminded himself dourly. But he would have very little time to say what else needed to be said before he had to leave Metamor for who knew how long.

“Charles!” Caroline called, being the first to see him and recognize him. The otter had just finished removing the sign that had been meant to welcome him home. He remembered feeling elated and almost tearful when he had first seen it. He had so hoped that Long House would become his home again. He loved Glen Avery, but there was a devotion amongst the Long Scouts for him that could not be matched even in the warmth of the woods. But now, after but a taste of that sweet promise, it was being taken away from him again. And what was worse, he was being taken away from his family too.

“Caroline,” Charles replied, doing his best to smile. The otter rushed up to him and threw her arms about his shoulders. She did not even flinch when she felt stone instead of flesh. “Misha told me what Zhypar said. We’ll miss you. And you just got back too!”

“I know,” Charles replied, hugging the otter in return for a moment. They broke apart, and she nodded her head once to Kayla who was still rather numb. “I want to say a few words before everybody before I go. But I have to see Misha now. There are a few things I must ask him.”

“Of course. He’s in his office. I tried to...” Caroline sighed heavily as she looked at the door bearing the green banner with black axe and bow. “He’ll want to see you again.”

“Thank you, Caroline,” Charles said, wishing that he could heave a sigh. His mind ached to, but his body simply did not work that way anymore.

“Well, you better hurry then before anybody else stops you,” Caroline suggested, but only managed half a laugh at her own joke. Already, several other Longs had turned their heads to see him and looked like they wanted to run and greet him once Caroline was done with him.

Charles saw them and nodded his head and waved to each of them in turn. “I am not leaving just yet!” he called out, his voice rumbling deeper than he expected. There were few smiles to greet this announcement, but at least none of the others rushed to meet him. “Well,” he said, returning his eyes to Caroline, “I should really get in and see Misha. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Charles,” the otter assured him with a warmer smile, though still filled with sadness. “Just do come back to us for good this time.”

“If it is within my power, I will.” He smiled once more, and then stepped past Caroline, heading for that door with the familiar green banner. Only a little under a year ago, Charles and Misha had discovered the Long House inside the Keep. It had become the home of the Long Scouts within days. Charles had called it home for many months, and so many memories, still fresh, had been created there. Now, he was just here visiting. These memories would all be bittersweet.

Despite his earlier admonition, Charles did have to pass by and assure several other Long Scouts that he would return, and not to be sorrowful that day. The words were hollow, because he was sorrowful himself. But, he made it to Misha’s door. Beyond he could hear the shuffling of papers. Charles grimaced, knocked, and did not wait for a reply before stepping through.

The fox was standing behind his desk shifting papers rather aimlessly about. His eyes slid upwards and took the stone rat in heavily. “Matt. Come in. I see the gods couldn’t help. I’m sorry.”

“No, they helped, Misha.” Charles stepped inside. Kayla followed after him before shutting the door. Misha’s nose wrinkled a bit at the skunk’s entrance, but he hid it well. The rat could only lament the loss of his sense of smell as one more price to be paid for. When he became flesh again, he would find the nearest flower and press it to his nose for several long seconds to enjoy the pleasure of scents.

“You are still stone, Matt.”

“For now, yes. But when that woman is killed, I will revert to flesh. And I can change to a full rat or the rattaur once more. And as you can see, I have both my eyes back.”

“Ah, yes, you are right.” Misha heaved with a sigh. He straightened then and nodded to Kayla. “Are you all right, Kayla?”

“Yes, I am as well as I can be.” She noticed where Misha had set Rickkter’s swords on a table off to one side of the room. Walking over, she ran her claws lightly along the lacquered scabbard of Rickkter’s katana.

Misha watched her and then turned back to Charles. “So you’ll be going after the man who did this to you.”

“The Marquis Camille du Tournemire,” Charles said without much verve. “Yes.”

“We both will,” Kayla chimed in. She had pulled a few inches of the katana from its scabbard and was admiring the blade. Turning back to the Long Scouts she slid it home.

There was a deep emptiness in the fox’s grey eyes. “Kayla...”

“I spoke with Lady Akkala, and she told me what had to be done. When du Tournemire is defeated, Rickkter’s soul will be brought back and he will awake. I’m going to be there to make sure that that happens.”

“You don’t have any experience in things like this, Kayla. You haven’t even left the valley in over seven years.”

“Don’t try and talk me out of it, Misha,” she said, cutting off the fox. “I have to do this, for me as much as him.”

“Can you at least tell me why?”

“Charles says that they’ll be going through Pryalia. I grew up in the eastern kingdoms there. Of everyone I’m still the most familiar with the language and people.” She looked down and fidgeted with the cloth wrap of the sword’s hilt. “I’m also the only one besides Charles who is capable of becoming a taur. I have... magic, however little that may count in the end considering what we’re up against. I even have one of the illusion talismans that Rickkter crafted with Muri. Lindsey and I are the only members of the party who could pass for human. Mostly, though, it’s because of Michael Cadena.”

“The last man you loved,” guessed Charles.

“Yes, that’s right.” She gave the swords in her paw a squeeze, the wood of each squeaking against the other. “We were together almost two years, when he asked me to marry him. The wedding was planned for the summer.” She shook her head, her tail coiling a bit tighter around her legs. “Then Nasoj attacked. I... lost him, out there on the walls. Two days later lost my father the same way. The day after, I lost my humanity.” She bit her lower lip. “I spent that time in the keep, safe with the rest of the female nobility. I swore that I would never just sit by like that again. During the attack this winter I was able to help. I was able to make a difference.”

“This isn’t like that,” the fox cautioned. Strangely though, there did not seem to be any fight in his voice. Only the sound of desolation.

“Damn it, Misha, I’m not going to just sit by and wait for him to die!” she shouted back at him, her fur bristling out. “I won’t just stay here, stay safe, on the chance that he’ll come out of this. I couldn’t live with myself if I just stood by while another of the men I loved died.”

Misha was nodding slightly to himself. “I understand how you feel. If there is anything that the Longs can supply you with, all you have to do is ask.”

Kayla brushed a stay tear into her black cheek fur. “Thank you, Misha, but I believe I have everything I need right now. There’s just one thing I want you to do for me personally.” The fox nodded. “Misha, please, do not let him come after me. I don’t want him chasing after me when he wakes. I want to come home and find him here waiting for me.”

“He will wait for you,” Misha said, his muzzle set in a tight line. “I’ll make sure of that. There is one more thing that I have for you.” He reached inside his desk, and drew out a metal cylinder about a foot in length. Charles sucked in his breath. It was the Sondeshike. He’d dropped it when the stone curse had begun to claim him. He felt chagrined because he’d completely forgotten about it afterwards.

“This was Rickkter’s. With Rickkter unable to be here, I leave it up to you to decide what is to be done with it.”

Kayla blinked and stared down at the device. She took a long breath, her tail pressing a bit more closely to her body. She then lowered her tail and looked at the rat. “Rickkter told me that this was the weapon of your clan. Is that true?”

Charles nodded at that, granite teeth grinding together. “Yes. But it belongs to Rickkter. I could not take it without his permission.”

“Well, he is not here and it falls to me to decide,” Kayla announced. “And I think that if he were here, he’d want you to take it with you. When we return, you can give it back to him.”

Charles looked down at the table. The Sondeshike lay there waiting amidst the dishevelled pile of parchment. It almost gleamed.

“Take it, Matt,” Misha said, his voice strangely grave. “You are my friend. Take it.”

Charles chocked somehow, and nodded. The sound was like stones crumbling together. Leaning forward, he picked up the shaft in his paw, and felt the chill of its touch even more deeply. He turned it over in his paw a few times and then realized that he had nowhere to store in. All of his clothes that he’d been wearing had become stone with him after all. They were now part of his body. “I’ll need to wear something more it seems.” He braved a smile, but it did not last. “Thank you, Kayla. I will use it only in honour.”

She nodded at that, biting her lip slightly. “I need to gather a few things before I leave. I’ll meet you back here, Charles.”

“I will be as quick as I can,” Charles replied.

Kayla thanked him once more, and Misha as well. And then, to the rat’s surprise, she stepped around the table and wrapped her arms tightly about the fox’s neck. “You take care of him for me! Please!”

“Kayla, there is none more than I here at Metamor who want to see Rickkter well again. He shall be protected while you are gone. Go safely, go with courage, and kill those bastards for me.”

She let out a chirp of laughter, but it was restrained. Finally, Kayla let go of the fox, nodded politely to the rat, and then slipped out the door. Charles watched after her for a moment before looking back at his own friend. “I wish you could come. I wish it had been you and not me.”

Misha snorted. “I’ll watch over your family, Matt. I love them too, you know. I am going to ride up there this evening to be with them. I assume you want to write a letter.”

“Of course. I was going to do that here in a few minutes. But there is one thing I did want to make sure you did. Kyia made for us a home here in Long House. I’ve walked it many times these last few days, imagining fondly where Kimberly and I might sleep, imagining the children climbing and crawling over every inch of it.” He stopped, the ache of those thoughts now boring a hole in him. “Please. Make sure that once the children are old enough, that they move back here to Metamor and live in that home. I know that Kimberly has grown to love the Glen, as have I, but this is still in my heart my home. I want us to live in it.”

Charles opened his mouth to say more, but the words had stopped. His shoulders slumped then, and slowly, his muzzle closed. But the fox slowly began to nod in understanding. He stepped around the desk and hugged the rat to his chest. Like Caroline, he did not flinch at feeling cold stone instead of warm flesh. “They will come to Metamor, Matt. I will help Kimberly and your children however I can.”

The rat hugged the fox back tightly. “Thank you, Misha. You have been a truer friend than I deserve.”

“Nonsense,” Misha said, patting him on the back. “We’re family, Matt. We’re Longs. And we are always there for each other.”

Both fox and rat broke their embrace and smiled to each other reassuringly. Charles lowered his gaze first. “I have to write several letters, Misha. I’ll leave them with you so that you can deliver them.”

“Go ahead and use my desk,” Misha offered. “I’m not doing much good in here anyway.”

“Thank you.” Charles looked over the desk once more to see if there was any spare bits of parchment he could use. There was one lopsided stack that looked clean at least. “I do want to see the rest of the Longs before I leave.”

“George is rounding them up now. They should all be assembled in half an hour at most.”

Charles nodded his head and took a deep breath. “Good. Well, I should start on my letters.”

“Of course. Just find me when they are finished.”

Misha stepped to the door and opened it. He looked back over his shoulder, grey eyes warm, his one ear raised fully. The light from outside made him look darker than he was. Charles was reminded of a faithful dog looking hopefully at his master. “Oh, and make sure you kill those bastards for me too.”

Charles laughed lightly, but his smile was true.

It had taken Jessica a full fifteen minutes to gather all of the notes that Wessex had made on his studies. Over the six months following his murder, she had perused those notes ceaselessly, hoping to find some way to understand the secrets that her master plumbed for within them. In the process, she had spread them out over her walls, using simple charms to keep them affixed to the stone so that she might better read them. Undoing all of those charms and organizing the sheets of parchment had not been an easy process, but it was necessary. The words of her master were not something she wished to leave behind.

The pages all together were too thick to be put in a scroll case, and so she slipped them into her satchel instead. A few other items she put there as well, her Lothanasi cross, her own quill for writing – magical of course – and one of Weyden’s feathers, the very first he’d molted. She could well remember the look in his eyes when it had begun. Jessica had laughed and assured him that all was well. He’d given her the feather as a lark, but she’d kept it and kept it in good condition as well. Anything of his was precious to her.

As a hawk, Jessica had few clothes, but there was a large cloak that she kept for the coldest of winter days. If they were to be braving the Barrier Range, then she would need it. Taking that and her satchel, she left her quarters for perhaps the last time. There was little else in it that mattered to her. The most important thing was still in the dungeons after all. Jessica steeled herself at the thought of him. She had said her goodbye after all. Now it was time to say one more.

It took her only a few minutes to reach the Long House. The guards recognized her and let her in without a fuss, for which she was grateful. It did not take her long to find Misha either. The fox was busy helping some of the other Longs taking down the festival decorations. When he saw her, he nodded, spoke quietly to Caroline whom he was helping, and then walked over to greet her.

“Jessica. I see you are packed.” There was little joy in his voice, but at least there was a measure of friendliness still in his tone.

“Yes. I feel as if the world has been turned on its head. I was hoping to speak with Elizabeth once more so that she might know what has happened.”

Misha blinked and then nodded. “Silly me. I should have thought of that myself. Go on. You know where the jewel is.” He paused a moment, his tail stilling behind him. “I wish that I could go too. I do not like to be left out of something this important.”

“What will be must be, Misha. I don’t understand it any better than that. We just have to trust that Habakkuk knows what he is doing.”

Misha chuckled drily at that. “Well, this morning I would not have done so. But after hearing what he had to say in the council chambers, I do trust him. Go speak with Elizabeth. I’ll be out here if you need me again.”

“Thank you, Misha,” Jessica said, cracking her beak into an avian grin. He smiled once more to her before returning to the otter’s side. Jessica wasted no time in venturing to Misha’s workshop where he kept the jewel. It was all so familiar, and yet suddenly so alien. Was that because in her mind she kept pondering the refrain, ‘this is the last time I will see any of this’?

The jewel was warm against her feathery wing. And even the air grew warmer still when the room around her disappeared to be replaced by Elizabeth’s bower. Elizabeth, who had been sitting at her desk writing something, rose even as the room became clear. Outside the day was beginning to wane, and the colours of the sky were bright orange and red. “Jessica! I did not expect to se you today.” Elizabeth stared at the hawk, and saw the cloak and satchel. “What has happened?”

“Something terrible, Elizabeth. I do not know when next I will see you. I have to travel far from Metamor, and I do not know when I may return. I wanted to say goodbye to you, and to thank you for all of your help.”

Elizabeth came around the desk quickly then, not gliding gracefully as she often did, but rushing, her face chiselled with worry. “What’s wrong, Jessica? Why must you leave Metamor?”

“It is because of Marzac,” Jessica said. And then, as clearly as she could, she told Elizabeth about the revelations by Habakkuk in the council chamber, the fight in the Belfry, and now the mission to accompany the prophet into the Great Barrier Range. When she was finished, she felt exhausted in both body and mind. She nearly fell over in fact, but Elizabeth put on hand upon her wing to steady her.

“That is...” Elizabeth said, but could find no words to describe it. “A Felikaush still alive, the Censer of Yajakali in Metamor, and a man with a deck of cards that can control minds. You have given me a lot to grapple with. But for you it is worse, I know.”

Elizabeth appeared to think heavily for a moment. A soft wind came in through the balcony, and though it was warm, Jessica nevertheless shivered at its touch.

“There is no reason we will not be able to communicate while you are on this journey. It will take me some time to craft another stone, but it is possible.”

Jessica shook her head. “I have to leave Metamor in two hours. Maybe sooner.”

“Oh, I will not be able to have it for you today. But I will find a way to deliver it to you.”

“But you don’t even know where I’ll be. I don’t even know.”

Elizabeth smiled at her, and squeezed her shoulder in a rather sisterly fashion. “I’ll find a way. Trust me. Now you should go. You have a long journey ahead of you. I will try to help when I can.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m so glad that Misha introduced us. You’ve been so helpful.”

“And you have been a treasure to help. You have great potential, and already, you have mastered so much. Do not forget that and never doubt yourself. Your heart will know what must be done.”

Jessica smiled once more, feeling a strange sense of relief. And then, the images began to fade, bleeding back into the gray solemnity of Misha’s workshop. Once more, Jessica was alone. The stone began to cool against her feathers, and she dropped it on the table where it had lain.

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