Chapter 24 - Vendetta's Fruition

- Jyre: The Archer - Day 11: 12:56am

For one split second I hated them both; The Lady for coming and James for pointing it out. Just when Daneel had finally started to talk to me! James I could forgive, after all he was only watching out for us all. But The Lady... I loathed her! Because it didn't matter where I was, or what I was doing, she was always there, ruining things! It had started with Ranson. I had been with him a month, perhaps two, when she decided to interfere. I'm not saying that I was happy with him, but I wasn't unhappy either - most of the time, anyway. She had spotted me somewhere with Ranson, liked what she saw and ordered him to draft me into her guard. Of course, not being satisfied with that, she had to go and lock me up in that blasted cage! And even when I was gone, hundreds of miles away on what may as well have been a different world, she was inside my head, taunting me. Els was gone because of her; and Ranson. And now that I was finally getting a chance with Daneel she had to come along and ruin that too!

I couldn't see her from where I sat. Daneel and James were doing a good job of blocking my view. I edged closer, trying to get a better idea of what was going on, but then I settled on studying Daneel instead. He already had the arrow knocked and ready to fire. His back was straight and motionless. I wanted to reach out and touch him, to run my hand over his smooth skin. I lifted my gaze to his face instead. The determination I found there left me with no doubts of failure. He was strong, unlike me, and he was going to succeed. And then the second came for him to let fly.

The arrow never left the string. I starred at it in disbelief. Why hadn't he let fly?! He couldn't hesitate now. Not when we were so close!

And then he was gone. Thrown off the ledge by some unseen force before I could move. I called out his name in panic, scrambling to the spot where he had been crouching, but he was already gone. I would have gone down to him then but something else caught my eye. The Lady, standing on a pedestal on the far side of the chamber, staring at the point where Daneel must have landed, a mocking smile on her face. The second I saw her I knew what I had to do.

"Give me the arrow, James!"

I don't think he heard me. But I wasn't paying much attention to him. I had already removed my bow from its holster and set about extending it. I kept my gaze fixed firmly on The Lady as I worked, making sure I knew where she was but never truly seeing her. Something intense was going on down there, but I could not afford to watch - I had to hurry. I tested the string on the bow, making certain that it was still good. My hands began to shake.

I closed my eyes, forcing down the panic that had stolen over me. Now wasn't the time to go getting emotional. I needed a clear head for this - now more than ever. But all I could think about was The Lady and how much she had hurt me; how much I hated her... I opened my eyes.

"James. Give me the arrow."

James turned to me, his attention caught by the sudden calm in my voice. "Jyre. Kill Viktoria with this. NOW." He held his hand out and I plucked the arrow from it.

I waited for her to be still. Time passed slowly as I watched her and Daneel clash. I reminded myself to keep breathing. I hardened myself as I watched her toss Daneel aside like a toy.

The shaft of the arrow brushed against my cheek, its cold caress a welcome companion. My eyes fixed on Viktoria one last time. I let out a growl, deep and primal, as I chose my spot. "Your throat, my lady," I mused. "Or your heart, perhaps?" I think I laughed. "Oh. I almost forgot. You have no heart." I aimed for the center of her chest, wanting her to feel the arrow's bite. One of her beasts crossed the room, blocking my line of vision. I waited, still talking to myself. "They lied to me, my lady. Would you like to know why? Because they said you were a goddess. But you can't be a goddess, can you?" I checked my aim one last time.

"Do you know why? Because goddess's can't die!"

I let the arrow fly.

- James: Bolt of Blue, I Call to You - Day 11: 1:00am

"There, it is done. The High Priest of Order has been slain. We can begin.", she said, and after that events took place with shocking suddenness. Even now, looking back, I can only remember individual events, sequenced as if in a strobe light. Daneel, standing stripped of his equipment, mocked by Viktoria. She points at him, says "STAY!" And a shimmering field surrounds him; his gestures indicate he is powerless to break out.

She turns to the pedestal of the Eye and begins to speak:

Bolt of blue, I call to you
From tamed and true, I unleash you.
Leap the gaps, and energies fry, too swift for mortal hand or eye.

My worst fears of Viktoria's project are confirmed, and I stare at the scene, rooted by horror and indecision. She intends to infiltrate the Metal Age, realigning herself to become a force of chaos infecting the new order.

Around her, her minions move back in a hideous dance, seeming to break their bones with the violence of their movements. Their dance begins to move about the pedestal upon which Viktoria chants to the Eye, standing in front of the new Gate. A rim of lava bubbles around the Gate pedestal, and the pedestal rotates counter to the direction of the dance. Arcs of some eldritch energy begin to form, between Viktoria, the Eye, the Gate, and the dancers. A lost corner of my mind likens their pattern to those of iron filings on a paper held above a magnet....

I glance at Jyre, whose eyes are closed and brow beading with sweat from concentration. The pain of drawing the bow must be immense with her wound but this does not show on her face. The flickers of light from the arcing power and the lava sparkles through the beads of sweat to give her the appearance of being bedecked with jewels. Viktoria picks up a new chant:

Press will creak and ink will leak
All through your text my errors creep
Your paper memories twist unclear
From printed pages chaos leers.

When would Jyre fire that damned arrow??

- Nightfall: The Queen's Ascension - Day 11: 1:00am

I knew things had gotten bad when I felt a jerk and a shudder, my body frozen in some type of sinister field. All my senses were numbed save my vision, which was left in a terribly distorted state. The display about me was both gruesome and awesome. The eerie glow of light and dark ether radiated through the room. The Queen's voice echoed menacingly, her power almost blinding.

I clenched my teeth, trying with all my remaining strength to reach into myself and pull out any power left in me, to combat this force which rendered me helpless. It was a totally ironic effort, but one that I needed to make.

The world seemed to move in slow motion, as the Queen freed herself from the false human form of The Lady. Her robe was ripped apart as vines released themselves from her flesh, and her skin hardened into the bark of a tree. The vines, pouring out of her arms and her sides lifted her off the floor, and crowned her with a writing halo of leaves.

She reached out with her vine-like fingers, and pulled a metal dagger from the inside of the pedestal. Taking the dagger with both hands, she drew it above her head.

- Ghost: Flee the Scene - Day 11: 1:00am

Well, there he was. The bloodied and broken body of that damn bastard lay dead. My hands were covered in his blood. It wasn't bad for a day's work. Lytha and I wasted no time in getting the hell out of the burning coffin. The witness to the murder still followed us at a distance, shouting for the guards. Some people peeked out of windows or doorways. Smoke continued to billow out of the grand temple of the now ,quite dead, Inquisitor.

- James:

Viktoria raises a dagger above her head, standing in rags of clothing rent asunder by her transformation to her true form. Her minion's bodies have collapsed into bloody ruin, and their essences race about the room, screaming triumph as the arcs of power grow in intensity. Jyre's bowstring thwacks. And time seems to stand still as the iron arrow flies. Viktoria plunges the dagger up under her breastbone, screaming: "And flawed your steel will flex and break." Her blood gushes forth onto the Eye. The level of ambient energies in the room increases a hundredfold.

- Nightfall:

The ritual was violated by the presence of something that did not belong. Flying above my head was the iron arrow, shot by Jyre's hand. It arced smoothly, untouched by the chaos around it, to its destination, the Queen's throat.

But the end was not to be. Not a second before the arrow struck its target, the dagger plunged into the Queen's chest, sealing the ritual. The arrow struck too, though too late to be of any use, and ripped right through her neck, tearing her head from her shoulders. The arrow's path, undaunted by the impact, sailed on, and made contact with the portal. Rather than pass through, it lodged itself, the powerful man-made magic far too incompatible with the synthetic chaos of the Gate.

Before the Gate, something dreadful was occurring to the ruptured corpse of the slain goddess. The Faery Queen, as we knew her, was dead, but something new was born in her place.

I feel myself go limp as the field which confined me vanished, and I collapsed to the floor. Through the deafening roar of the whirlwind of energy, I heard the soft sound of a small body leaping to the ground behind me. Jyre, inspired and with a new strength, pulled my body from the floor, and braced me as I stood.

"We must get to the portal," I told her, clued off by the fact that James was running to it. She nodded and supported me as I walked. I felt my strength, both physical and magical, returning to me. We trudged through the horrible mess of ripped flesh and bones, that were once the Queen's beasts, to the shimmering portal. James stood by it, urging us to hurry.

Almost there, I stopped, spotting the head of the Queen, lying on the floor. The expression on her face commanded no pity, even from the most compassionate heart. I ushered Jyre on ahead to James, as I went to take care of a little business with that head.

- James:

The iron arrow punched through her neck. Its iron fletching ripped off her head, and the arrow buried itself in the new Gate, which suddenly began to coruscate with power. Viktoria's essence rose with the blood pouring from her neck and chest and pulled into itself all the ambient energy of the ritual.

Jyre leaped towards Daneel - the field imprisoning him was collapsing! As I followed, I realized that parts of the chamber were falling as well. Jyre somehow summoned the strength to grab Daneel. Viktoria's essence began to coalesce into a new form over the dry brown husk of her former body. We rushed past her, escaping into the Gate. Daneel grabbed Viktoria's head, and then discarded it, as Jyre dragged him along.

- Nightfall:

I reached the Gate. James, shouting loudly over the roar of the dancing energy, said, "We must force the Gate to not let her past! We can only do it from this side, so we must hurry! If we go through now, she will be able to follow!"

"How?" I shouted, but then my voice went dry. A huge set of glowing, green, eyes materialized behind James, followed by the rest of the face. The face of the Queen formed around him, her skin silvery-white, with brilliant veins of energy flowing across the surface.

"Foolish insects, you think you can defeat me? Do you not realize the magnitude of my powers?" The words emanated from all around us, and no sooner had they been spoken, than a tremendous force thrust all of us through the gateway.

We landed in a heap on a strange platform, floating in the void. My interest had to be quickly ripped from the wondrous cosmos that surrounded us, and directed to the menacing face of our enemy, still visible on the other side of the Gate. She was moving to enter, and once in this plane between realms, she was free to assault any dimension she chose.

"Oh no," James said, "We must run! Quickly!"

"Which path?" I shouted, as a half dozen floating pathways made themselves visible around us.

"The gray path!" shouted James. "The one displayed in the orb!"

The entity which the Queen had become came into contact with the Gate. Her expression of malice changed to shock and pain. The iron arrow, still lodged within the Gate, came into contact with her being. Her face distorted violently as she struggled against it, but to little avail. "She's trapped!" I shouted to James and Jyre. They halted their run, and looked back.

Something told me that it would not last, however. As strong as the magic of the arrow may be, hers was unquestionably stronger, and it was just a matter of time before she broke free. I made a decision. "James, Jyre, follow the path, quickly. I must stay and prevent her from coming through!"

"How can you --"

I cut James off. "James, this is the ethereal plane. I know how to use this place against her. I can retain her as long as I need to."

"But, I don't understand, why can you --"

I cut him off again. "Go! I'll find a way back, I promise!" Nodding grimly, James grabbed Jyre by the hand and ran.

- Jyre: Murderer - Day 11: 1:05am

She was dead. Dead because of me. Because I had wanted to kill her. I had wanted to shed her blood more than I had ever wanted anything else before. Well, I had done it now. And I wasn't happy. I was disappointed. It had been too easy in the end. I could have been shooting at a tree for all the feeling it brought me. Better if it had been my hand wielding that dagger. Better if I had felt her blood on my skin. Better if I had not killed her at all...

There was an agony in my heart that I would rather not have felt. And a voice in my head that spoke but one word. "Murderer," it said. And murderer I was. Not just because I had killed her, but because I had wanted to. By picking up that arrow and using it, I had gone against everything I held true. Life was not mine to take. Life was sacred. A thing to be cherished. Because once life was gone, it was over. Finished.

"....I promise."

There was something in Daneel's voice that caught my attention, pulling my mind out of the depths into which it had sunk. I was running. James was leading me along a gray path, my hand clutched in his. And Daneel was... I stopped abruptly and spun around. Daneel wasn't here!

"James..." I stared at him anxiously, desperate for reassurance. Before he could answer, someone else spoke...

- Nightfall: The Gray - Day 11: 1:05am

After making sure that James and Jyre were leaving, I looked back at the Gate, and the menacing face struggling with all its might to break through. She was totally within the portal now, not in the Maw of Chaos, and not in the Ethereal Plane. If there was any place more in limbo then this, she was in it. I knew I could seal her in, but I lied about one thing. I would have to stay here forever, to keep it closed. Was I willing? Yes. It's not like life would end. This place, though a total departure from what we would consider reality, was a realm nonetheless, and I could indeed live here for as long as I needed. Was it preferable? No.

"There will be no need," said a voice over my shoulder. I quickly glanced behind me to see nine individuals, cloaked in gray. It was them. "You have helped us, and so we shall help you. You may return home. We shall see that this creature remains trapped within the portal for eternity." What could I do? Something within told me to trust him, just like I always had before. "You must hurry!" he said hastily. "The Gateway to your realm will not be open for long!"

I nodded thankfully, and ran down the gray path, only to find James and Jyre standing, waiting for me. "Quickly," I told them, "They can handle it from here, we need to get though the gray gateway before it closes!" Without further explanation, I urged them onward, and we dashed down the path, not caring to look back.

- James: Still More Questions Then Answers - Day 11: 1:05am

I still cannot fully explain why they helped us. I think they represent a force of Balance - a Balance transcending petty human concerns. Viktoria's victory would have upset this. So, perhaps, might ours. But this does not fully explain why these seven robed beings intervened at this juncture. We were going to try to close the Gate. In all probability, Viktoria was at that time so powerful that Daneel would have failed to block it completely, and would become instead locked in an eternal struggle to prevent Viktoria from using the Gate. All I can suggest is that the Balance they serve is merciful; and that they turn that mercy towards those who serve their ends. We had prevented Viktoria from gaining victory and thereby upsetting that Balance, perhaps in the process performing acts forbidden to them by whatever arcane rules may bind them. And so they granted us our lives.

Dan urged us to run to the gateway leading home before it closed. I saw little reason to object, since staying in this place would not be a favorable option. After a short but mad sprint, we found ourselves looking at a large, nondescript, rectangular gray portal.

Not caring to take turns, we all leapt through together.

- Nightfall: Home - Day 11: 1:05am

The falling sensation did not last as long as I feared it might. It only lasted several seconds. The sensation of slamming into a stone floor, with a few arms and legs that did not quite belong to you to break your fall, or perhaps make it more painful, lasted only a split second, however the pain, added to the existing pain, lasted quite a bit longer.

I never thought I would be so happy to see another human face, especially a Hammerite. We were back in the chamber from which I entered the lava tunnels, on the other side of the chasm. As fate would have it, we arrived just in time to witness the bridge opening ceremony.

What happened over the next few hours is rather blurry. I was in bad shape, and beyond exhausted. I managed to convince Brother Thurm and crew that James and Jyre were prisoners, whom I rescued from the lair of The Faery Queen, formerly known as Viktoria. On our way back to the surface, I briefed him on our adventure underground, to which he listened with avid interest.

It seemed that the Hammerites had managed to accomplish quite a bit in my absence. The bridge was constructed, a feat once thought impossible, and the foundation for the tower the captain spoke of was already mostly in place. With the urgency to dash home and report our victory to the Hammerite council, Thurm had one of the bulldozers quickly stripped down to a simple passenger cart, and he, James, Jyre, several guards, workers, and myself, all traveled the newly constructed road back home.

- Ghost: Take the Long Way Home - Day 11: 3:00am

"We'll never get away if this guy keeps following us!" I told Lytha. I stopped, turned around, and began to walk menacingly toward him.

"If you have any plans to live past the next five minutes you'll get out of my sight!" I screamed at the man as I got closer. He stumbled backwards and then ran away when he got back to his feet.

I'm not sure if anyone followed us home, but we took the long way around town through a lot of alleys to try and lose anyone who might be trailing us. By the time we got back to my place my vision was blurry and it was hard to walk, Lytha was holding me up as we rounded the last corner. She opened the door and I collapsed on the couch. My sight faded to blackness as the loss of blood and pain caught up with me.

- Lytha: Mission Success - Day 11: 3:00am

So we have had it. The High Priest was dead, the temple of the Inquisitor was in flames. Plus, we had escaped. But, Ghost seemed to be in the need of some help, as he was more deeply wounded than he had thought. He was unconscious on the sofa, and blood drizzled from the wound on his shoulder. I stared at him, and wondered about what I should do now. Why had I been so hysterical and aggressive when I thought he was dead? I frowned. He had saved me from Cragscleft. Even though he did it for money, the deed was the same. He had been kind. I... I had caused a great deal of chaos in his apartment, and left without a word. If I left now again, he might die. The paleness in his face and the huge amount of blood that he had lost were obvious indicators of that. How much blood was in the body of a human? Hmm, I had no idea about that. Maybe he would die, maybe not. "You can't kill a Ghost" he had said. Well, maybe he was right, maybe not. But why the heck had I been so touched from the thought that he was dead? Well, I had no idea, I tried to convince myself. Maybe I could use him as an anchor in the next days, as Thalia had been in my entire life. As someone who gave me both a reason to continue this life and not to get mad. Maybe. I sighed, and sat beneath him on the sofa to inspect the wound.

The wound did not look good. I could see a particle stuck in the flesh, an odd small metal thing. It did not look like an arrow head or a crossbow bolt, but I knew that projectiles should be removed from the wounds. I found another dagger somewhere below my cloak, and wondered how many daggers I had taken from Koyne. Then I started to dig the dagger in the open flesh on Ghost's shoulder to remove that particle. He moaned and opened his eyes. As I dug the dagger deeper to move the blade below the metal thing, he screamed aloud and went unconscious again. I removed the thing, and put it on the table, to have a look at it later.

Now I tried to remember what I had learned about wounds like this one. I remembered that someone had said that it was useful to put alcohol on the wound, so I went to the kitchen to find a bottle with something useful. From the bath I took a towel, and went back to him.

Ghost was still unconscious. I took care of the wound, and used the towel to stop the bleeding. This looked better now, I thought. I decided to let him sleep, and to give him the healing potion that I had stolen from Koyne as soon as he awoke.

Now I realized that my own body ached from my toes to my head. No wonder after that day, if I remembered that I had been almost dead a not so long ago. I wondered about the fact that I was still alive after all this stuff. And I wondered what would happen next.

I yawned, and went to the bedroom where I fell into the bed and asleep after some minutes.

I woke up again. I didn't know how much time had passed. "Are you feeling better now?" I asked, and looked at Ghost.

I wasn't surprised, he did not answer. His face was still very pale, but the towel had stopped the bleeding from his shoulder. He was deep asleep, but he looked slightly better than last evening.

It was still night, late at night. And I had had one of these nightmares, again, but somehow different. The cohesion was gone. They would most probably torture me in the next few weeks.

I convinced myself that there were no other people in the apartment than him and me -- especially no Hammerites or dead persons. All was quiet, but the fear from the nightmare was still there. And I convinced myself that the door was still locked. It was. I glanced nervously through the window, and saw that the streets were almost empty now. No Hammerites who peered into the windows, and no dead sisters, who would point their rotting fingers at me and start shouting again. Everything was peaceful and quiet now.

I wondered if it was a good idea, but I crawled to Ghost under the blanket on the sofa. With my arm on his chest, I fell asleep.

- Nightfall: Return to The City - Day 11: 8:00am

It was well past dawn when the walls of The City loomed into view. We drove up to the city gate, but to our surprise, found no one there to greet us. Only a few common guards stood by the gate. Bewildered, but not daunted, we pressed on, at full speed, towards the Grand Cathedral in Town Square. When we approached, a group of Hammerite guards dashed towards our position. I could tell by their urgency that something was terribly amiss.

They wasted no time in presenting the news. The High Priest and the Grand Inquisitor were both dead. The Inquisitor's temple lay in ruins, and they had a thief to blame for it all. I roused James and Jyre from their sleep (I don't know how they managed to sleep riding in this rumbling hulk), and the Hammers treated them to some refreshments while Thurm and I attended an emergency meeting of the Hammerite Council. The meeting lasted for hours. I stayed quiet through most of it, far too tired to think too much about such things.

In the end they drew an alarming conclusion. It was logical, of course, and did indeed solve many of their problems, but it had far too many hints of chaos to it. They elected a new High Priest on the spot, Brother Borimeir, a frail old man with very few opinions, and a very even temperament. He was quite a contrast from the fiery High Priest who had been a thorn in my side for the past months. It was good and bad in a way; good in that I wouldn't be at constant strife with the High Priest anymore, and bad in that I may have far too much room to get sloppy now.

Thurm told them all my tale, though his version was a little different then the one I gave him. I actually liked it better, so I didn't offer to correct any of the details. This is how legends are born and history is written. After praising me to no end, and awarding me several metals of courage, honor, and whatnot, they finally let me go home.

To my delight, waiting outside the cathedral doors was Richen, standing proudly before my shiny new stagecoach, exactly how I had ordered it. I didn't inquire as to how this all too perfect arrangement was set up, and I didn't necessarily care, I was just happy to be going home in style. Jyre, who had not said a single word since we left the Maw, and James, climbed in with me, and Richen drove us slowly home.

- Chapter 23 - One Villain's Death is Another's Birth / Chapter 25 - Correspondence Closed

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.