A half hour later Kratia was alone inside her sanctum sanctorum. She paced nervously. She was committed now; she had kidnapped and assaulted a Lord of the Circle. The law stated that she could be stripped of magic and even executed. But she would soon be above the law; the maker of her own laws. It made her both anxious and excited. She needed a few minutes to calm herself before talking to Billy.
She opened a white box, lifted the sword and stroked the broken blade. It was a sword and yet it wasn’t. Once it had been a demon, until it annoyed Murgorath who froze and reshaped it into a sword for his amusement. She could feel the razor edge cry out silently for blood. Oh, you would love to stab into someone, bathe in their life energy as you steal them away to the netherworld! It was most certainly not dead, only dormant.
The sword was obscene. The hilt was a tiny demon, only inches long. Its legs were bent at the hip so that its feet were even with its head. Very flexible, this demon. The blade was its huge and flattened phallus, which stretched up between its legs and extended another three feet. Or would have, if half of it hadn’t broken off long ago. The demon’s forked tongue was outstretched, licking its own penis.
The demon was real but existed in perpetual limbo; inside this room with its walls of white crystal the spells of the Circle and the power of the Crystal could not harm it, could not send it to the null space where its banished brethren waited. But without access to the magic force it was inanimate, trapped in a state of perfect suspended animation.
Suspended animation. The perfect way to wait. To all appearances nothing more than a intricately carved sword. She smiled. It would be in considerable pain when it awoke, with half of its dick broken off. And she would need to awaken it soon. But not yet. She returned the sword to its case.
Kratia reflected that the other items in the room were in their own version of suspended animation as well. She picked up a white crystal box without opening it. She was loath to part with it, yet her plans depended on it. She breathed deeply, let it out slowly. Well, there could be no advances without some sacrifices. Her father had told her that often enough in the short time she had known him.
She set the box down, moved on to the darkened sensiball. She placed both hands on its surface, but of course there was no stirring within. She wanted so much to hear her father’s voice. She silently debated carrying it outside but the risk was too great just yet.
A tear fell on its smooth surface. “Father, father. Why did you have to die? Will I find peace in wreaking vengeance upon your murderers? Will I earn your pride in fulfilling your ancient goal of uniting Salmineria?” Another tear fell. “Why does it all seem shallow? Tell me, Murgorath, why I love no one, and no one loves me?”
Her words were whispers, barely heard even to herself. She fingered the cream colored Elfin script engraved about the base of the sensiball. The flowing lines were almost invisible against the surrounding white crystal, yet they called to her somehow. Kratia wished she could read its meaning, for she was interested in everything that was her father’s. But these were in the High Tongue and only those who had been blessed by the Elves could know its meaning, and then only after years of study and practice. Murgorath could have read it, of course; in fact, he had written it. But father was dead. And she could hardly take this to Icon or Nexus, and expect them to translate.
It didn’t matter anyway. The plan was proceeding as it should. The sensiball remained dark and silent.
Kratia looked down, saw the tears that had fallen from her face onto the polished surface of the sensiball. Murgorath would have regarded it as a sign of weakness, she thought. Even if the tears were for him. Best to dry them up, and get on with business.
She opened a different white crystal box and stared at the burnished gold foil stretched taut between two rods of pulsing crystal: one white, the other blue. Across the glimmering surface fifty‑one names remained engraved with flaming letters. All that’s left of the great Elvin empire, she thought. Then, more practically, she realized that she had two names for spares. She smiled, shut the lid and picked up the box. She pressed against a particular stone set into the wall, releasing a lever that let her push away one of the large stone blocks. She slipped into a narrow passage and down narrow stairs, down between walls that were not layered with white crystal.
She felt the magic return and willed a passage directly through the stone wall, arriving in her private quarters. She redid her appearance, eliminating any hint of tears, and hurried off to her formal office. The wall reformed behind her.
She moved to the open window, stared out into the starless sky. There was something she needed to do before meeting Billy. She reached out with her arms, a reflection of the true reaching out that she was doing with her mind. Her vision soared over the terrain, seeing with unnatural clarity through the darkness. In a moment she was at the hilltop cave where her friends had once lived; none answered her summons now, and the magic eye confirmed that none still lived within the Rep nest. Damn that Drake. If only he hadn’t been so impulsive.
Farther away she cast her awareness, leagues away to the northeast, to another cave she knew. The Reps remembered her from the many weeks she had spent flying with the hive. She was welcomed back; yes, she was more than welcome. She was worshipped. She brought great pleasures with her, and the promise of such warm, delicious food.
“Come, my little darlings,” her thoughts whispered. “I have need of you again.”
Across the miles, the nesting Reps heard.
They were tired, for they had finished hunting hours ago in the preferred twilight hours. Now they wanted to sleep their dreamless sleep as dark night slowly lost its battle to the ball of daytime fire that marched harshly across the sky. But the Master called and her will was not to be denied.
The pleasure she brought to them with her gentle touch had long since opened their minds to her, and in truth she had changed them in ways they did not, could not know.
They heard. They understood: there was a new enemy. Smaller than the Reps; but swift. A flier, a bird of coal black. Which one? No way to be sure; must kill all the little black birds, wherever they may hide.
‘They are viscous, hateful little monsters’, the words said in the simple speech of the Rep hive. ‘They are a danger!’ the words said. ‘Protect the hive! Quickly!’
The Reps stirred, a maelstrom of activity in the cavern. Then up through the roof hole, and into the night; spewing forth like black vomit from the depths of a sour planet. Spreading out to block out the meager light from the flickering aurora. Seeking new prey.
Kratia let her arms drop and let the spell fade from her mind. There were more important things to deal with now. She clutched her wands and sent out a mental order for Sarral to bring Billy to her. Then she reached out to Drake and summoned him directly.
She smiled. The point of no return had been crossed. She had set in motion an intricate chain of events, and years of careful, meticulous planning would soon bear fruit.