Shadows of the Limelight, Ch 19: The Childish Bride

Previously …

There were times when her father hit her. He wasn’t a cruel man, just given to fits of anger. Ros didn’t remember a time before her mother had passed, but she often imagined that her father had been different then. It was always the small things that would set him off. There was a floorboard in their cottage that squeaked whenever someone stepped on it. Ros’ father would snarl at it momentarily every time that happened, like a dog with its hackles raised. He’d go back to whatever he’d been doing soon afterward, seeming to forget all about the squeaky floorboard. His fits of anger came quickly, but they faded just as fast. When he struck her, it was always in those moments of brightly burning rage. He had gripped her by the throat once, raising her up until she was kicking her feet at him. She’d been able to watch as he seemed to realize what he was doing. Her father had set her back down on the floor and locked himself in his bedroom. He hadn’t apologized, but he made poached pears for her, which was her favorite. She pretended that it made up for the bruise that ringed her neck for a full week.

It had been months since her father’s last truly bad fit, that time brought on by the fact that Ros had burned chicken she’d been trying to roast. Things were better now. Ros kept telling herself that, while at the same time trying to avoid the small things she’d come to learn would bring his temper to a boil. She knew where to step so as not to make noise when she moved around the house. She knew when to ply her father with a bottle of cheap wine and when to slyly keep it from him. She could sense those times when he was more prone to anger and make herself scarce. She could bow her head and act meek when she had done something wrong, trying to make herself look small and vulnerable so that his anger wouldn’t overtake his sense. At nine-and-a-half years old, Ros thought that she and her father were finally getting along.

Her father didn’t trust her to go to the market on her own, but when they went together she was given a considerable amount of leeway. Her father would greet people with a warm smile, embracing them with open arms and engaging in long conversations on boring adult topics. As soon as he was occupied, Ros would go wandering the various stalls, taking in the colors of the fruits and vegetables, smelling freshly baked bread, and keeping an eye out for illustrati. There was an illustrati of birds who often swept through the markets. The woman had a dozen chickadees lining her shoulders, singing songs as she walked. Ros thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Ros found the woman, Aviare, in the first fifteen minutes. The illustrati was walking past the market stalls, as she usually did, occasionally stopping to ask a question of one of the vendors or touch a finely made piece of merchandise. Even at a young age, Ros understood this to be something that was expected of the local illustrati. Today was somewhat unusual in that Aviare was taking her walk with a tall man in fine white clothing. They were carrying on an animated conversation; naturally, Ros slipped closer to listen in.

“I’ve heard that the kingdom of Lethant has an eligible princess,” said Aviare.

“They say that birds take on the character of whatever they eat,” said the man. He had an angular face that Ros recognized from the coins. She felt a thrill go through her when she realized that he must be the king. Her father hated the king, but her father hated lots of people. “The strawberries are in season as of late. Do you think that perhaps you might be able to feed some quail on fruits? Strawberry quail with a honey glaze, I think that sounds delightful, don’t you?”

“I will see what I can do,” said Aviare. “I’ll speak with your chef about what sorts of flavors might pair well with that; a quail can’t live on strawberries alone, not for terribly long at any rate. Just as a man cannot live on a diet of books, yes? There is a primal need for companionship.”

“I have companions,” complained the king. “And I have interests other than books, it’s just that the real world pales in comparison to the stories. None of the illustrati I know hold a candle to the greats of old. I often think we’re in the waning days of the world. It fills me with such melancholy.”

“I was speaking of female companionship,” said Aviare.

“Well, I have you, don’t I?” the king asked brightly.

“I’m not speaking of mere friendship,” said Aviare. Her mouth twisted into a strained smile. “I’m speaking of marriage.”

“I’m not daft,” said the king. “I simply don’t wish to discuss it. A man must be allowed to mourn one wife before he goes seeking out the next.”

“It’s been four years,” began Aviare. But at that moment the king went stiff, whatever interest he’d had in the conversation erased completely. His eyes were on Ros. She had been following along behind, listening in on their conversation, but they had slowed down and she had gotten too close.

“Well hello,” said the king. He turned to Aviare, though his eyes didn’t leave Ros. “Look at this little angel.”

When he approached her, Ros tried to run. She was stopped by a firm hand around her upper arm from a man who she only belatedly realized must have been one of the king’s men.

“I long for the innocence of childhood,” said the king. He crouched down so that he was on Ros’ level. “Days of wandering without a care in the world. Do you know who I am girl?”

“The king,” said Ros. Her arm was still being held tight.

“Such a pretty voice,” said the king.

“We shouldn’t dally,” said Aviare.

“No,” said the king. There was something foreign in his eyes. “No, I suppose that we shouldn’t.”

That might have been the end of it, in some other world. It would only be a chance encounter with royalty, the sort of thing that Ros might have told her friends about later on. She would learn enough to know that the king’s advisers would have tried to talk him out of bringing her into the castle. She would also come to know the king well enough to know that he couldn’t be dissuaded from his flights of fancy. Her father was given a small sum of money for her, a bride price that amounted to a purchase. In the stories they would tell later it was forty drams, but in truth Vidre never learned what price she fetched. Two weeks after they’d briefly met in the market, Ros was engaged to the King of Geswein. He adored her in a way that caused no small amount of uneasiness. The only part of her that didn’t meet with his approval was her name; once her domain was known, the bards picked something more appropriate. She was called Vidre, a corruption of the Merrkian word for glass. No one used her given name after that, to the point where she sometimes forgot what she’d once been called.

She never saw her father again.

Vidre had just finished a dinner party that was more bearable than most. Her husband had taken ill earlier in the day, which meant that she didn’t have to worry about what it was going through his mind. He had been both distant and jealous, which amounted to word coming to her through her ladies-in-waiting that certain men were no longer to be seated next to her during meals. A courtier had been sent away on a trip to the colonies as well, which had apparently happened because he had smiled at Vidre when the king was around to see it. The king’s absence at the party was more than welcome. Vidre could demure when dessert came without worrying about what the king might say afterward. She could speak with whomever she liked, with the only worry being that someone would talk about it later.

She was laying in her bed, thinking about chocolates, when the king’s adviser came storming into her room.

“Are you a virgin?” he asked.

“What an exceptionally rude and —” Vidre began. She was still in her blue and purple dress, waiting on the maids to come and help her out of it.

“Was the marriage ever consummated?” asked the adviser. “We know that you share separate rooms.”

“You may leave right now,” said Vidre. “If you do so, I will be kind when I report this incident to my husband. I am willing to ascribe this to a sickness rather than some fault of your character, should you respect the sanctity of my room and depart at once.”

“The king is dead,” said the adviser.

“Dead?” asked Vidre. “But I saw him this morning.” She felt faint but tried to keep her head about her. The corset she was wearing didn’t help matters.

“He suffered the stroke of God’s hand,” said the adviser. “Queen Vidre, you are now sovereign ruler of this kingdom, but I must know whether you are a virgin or not. They have been rumors one way or another from the day the marriage was announced. Was the marriage consummated? Or failing that, did you seek the comforts of a man outside the marriage?”

“I …” Vidre paused, trying to fight down years of training in proper etiquette. “We did,” she lied. “Only twice. He didn’t favor it.”

“Do not mention that,” said the adviser with a shake of his head. “They will ask for an inspection of your maidenhood, to ensure that you are telling the truth, there’s little chance that we can get around suffering that indignity.” He paused slightly. “Is there some man who has caught your eye in recent weeks, some man who might get you with child so that a bastard —”

“That is quite enough,” said Vidre. “I have tolerated your improper questions as long as I was able, but if my husband is truly dead then I am, as you say, the sovereign queen. I am certain that there are things which must be done, but I will not submit to any such examination, nor will I entertain the notion of, of, laying with a man out of wedlock and so soon after the death of my beloved husband.”

“You foolish girl,” said the adviser. His face had fallen. “They are coming to oust you. You need every scrap of legitimacy that you can gather up, no matter the cost in dignity and lies. A sixteen-year-old girl sitting on the throne would be bad enough if there were a regency council in place, bad enough if you were queen by blood instead of marriage, bad enough if you had a child by the king, bad enough if anyone liked you, bad enough if these were times of peace and plenty without enemies arrayed all around you — but I must tell you that you have precious few advantages to grasp onto here.”

“Very well,” said Vidre. She adjusted her dress; it seemed as though it would be some time before she was allowed to take it off. “If the situation is dire, we will meet it head on. My beloved husband lays dead. Let us prepare to continue the royal line.”

Vidre fought hard for her kingdom. She endured an endless series of meetings, trying not to despair at the mess the king had left behind. There were debts that couldn’t be paid and would have to be put off somehow. There were alliances that would need to be honored despite the sorry state of Geswein’s military. The state of her maidenhead was inspected by a physician, a humiliation far greater than she had supposed it would be. Yet it wasn’t enough; two weeks after the king’s funeral, Vidre found herself spirited away in the middle of the night, no longer the queen, only queen-in-exile.

Vidre stood in the cool air of Abalon, letting the breeze touch her naked skin. One of the vaunted Hundred Nobles lay in his bed, watching her. He had told her over and over how beautiful she was, as many of them did. Perhaps he had thought that was the most significant thing about her. Few of the nobles seemed to care that she was queen-in-exile of a large kingdom. Few seemed to care that the stories of her youth and her recent departure had made her one of the most powerful illustrati in the region. Vidre was stronger than the man she’d slept with, even though he was a minor illustrati himself. She could have pinned him to the bed and had her way with him, rather than the other way around. Either way, the pleasure was fleeting. It was the familiar rhythm of hunter and hunted that she enjoyed; the act of coitus was almost secondary to that, though it was always easier to remember that after the fact.

“What are you going to do when you’re done in Abalon?” asked the man. His name was Calrus, but Vidre had already decided that she would pretend to have forgotten it.

“Done in Abalon?” she asked. She didn’t look to where he was laying, only stared out the open window.

“You’re burning bridges left and right,” he replied. “Not an uncommon strategy when an illustrati is looking to move on in the near future. People remember a burnt bridge. Especially if the bridge was beautiful.”

“That’s a terrible metaphor,” said Vidre. “Unless you’re saying that the relationships I’ve ruined were what was beautiful and I’m nothing but an arsonist.”

“You’re a beautiful arsonist,” said Calrus. “But so much more than that. Did you know, when I met you I hadn’t expected so many layers to you? They’d said you were a creature of appetites. A hungry bear foraging around in the woods.”

“A beautiful bear?” asked Vidre with half a smile that Calrus wouldn’t be able to see.

“But you’re not bear,” said Calrus. “You’re quite austere. You take small bites at the dinner table. You refuse both mead and cake. Mead I could understand, if you were with child —”

“Is that the rumor these days?” asked Vidre.

“It has been floated,” said Calrus. “A young woman with wanton urges and a distaste for lambskin will not long remain so slender.”

“It’s not lambskin,” said Vidre. “It’s lamb intestine. If anyone should ask, let them know that I am perfectly unencumbered.”

The truth was that she had been expecting a pregnancy for months. It wasn’t exactly that she wanted a child, but she had some vague sense that it would give her a purpose that was sorely lacking. Vidre was dependent on the kindness of the nobility for the time being; she floated from one house to another as her hosts extracted stories and gossip from her. Her hopes of getting her kingdom back had evaporated within her first month in Abalon. She was rudderless. A child might have changed that and given her something worth fighting for. As it was, there was no grand purpose in her life, no challenge set before her. For all her so-called wanton urges, no child had been forthcoming, and Vidre had begun to suspect that she would never be a mother.

“So back to my original question,” said Calrus. “What are you going to do when you leave Abalon?”

Vidre’s life had first been dominated by her father and then by her husband. Now she was as free as she would ever be. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I think I might make a name for myself.”

Calrus had laughed, as though it had been a joke.

Welexi had gone insane, or perhaps he had been insane all along. Vidre had liked it better when the search for the Harbinger artifacts was only a flight of fancy, a framing device for their travels. Secret, forbidden knowledge was a perfectly fine thing to pin a story on, so long as it was like the Numifex, an object whose purpose didn’t really matter except to give motivation to the story’s characters. Now Welexi had found his Numifex; he was cradling it in his hands like a proud father holding his newborn child. Dominic was the first to have his power taken, whether it was justified or not. He was almost certainly not going to be the last.

Vidre had thought about the best way to fight Welexi. That was only natural; they were sparring partners often enough. His spear would pass right through her glass armor, which meant that she would have to fight from a distance, something that her domain had never lent itself to. Armor of light was weaker than steel, but it would be impossible to rip off and have no chinks in which to sink her daggers. It wasn’t hopeless — no fight was ever hopeless — but it would be very difficult. Vidre would have bet against herself, if the dead could collect winnings. She’d thought all that before Welexi had acquired the domain of shadow. On top of that, Gaelwyn would almost certainly intervene. That was an entirely different matter, one she’d given quite a bit more thought to; it wasn’t quite so hopeless, if she could make her armor so thick that she could barely move in it. Regardless, this was not the time nor place.

Vidre had seen Calligae coming up the path right when Welexi had begun talking about power falling into the wrong hands. She’d held her tongue. If Welexi had come up behind her and seen the same wandering figure, she would have given him a nonchalant remark about what the plan was, feigning boredom. Until then, she would have to hope that Calligae would turn back, or if he continued on, that he would be wise enough to ask them questions before trying to start a fight. Calligae was a decent man and the domain of air was one that lacked in offensive potential. Vidre would try to fight defensively against him if it came to that. If he didn’t listen to their explanations, they would have to kill him. Calligae tended towards reason though.

But when Welexi took Dominic’s power, as though it were nothing, Vidre began to feel a cold trickle of fear. Welexi had brushed off Lothaire’s insinuations. He often did that when unpleasant subjects reared their head. How much loyalty did Welexi really have to her though? Lothaire’s final words hung in her head. Has Welexi told you about your father? Vidre hadn’t seen her father in twenty years. Gaelwyn had acted instantly to silence Lothaire the moment the subject had come up. Everything else that Lothaire had said was true in one way or another.

“Spoils of war,” said Welexi.

“This was no war,” replied Vidre. She listened to his justifications, trying not to feel queasy. The artifact had been frightening in the abstract before. Now it provoked something more. It was one thing to hear Dominic say that Hartwain had been stripped of her power and another to see the same thing happen so easily to Dominic. Vidre watched the supernatural confidence with which Welexi held the artifact. She couldn’t imagine being so foolhardy as to stick her hand inside its maw after seeing Dominic’s shadow armor pop like a bubble. When Welexi was done speaking, Vidre answered in kind, giving voice to her part of the pattern that Welexi had started. It was easy and natural to frame Dominic as the young apprentice seeking to surpass his master, no matter what the cost.

When Welexi moved to kill Dominic, it was too much.

“Wait,” she said, before a plan had even formed. “Let me do it.”

If she could have gotten Welexi and Gaelwyn to leave the room, to give them privacy, perhaps there might have been something that Vidre could have done. She might have simply been able to say that she had killed him while leaving him in some other place that she could retrieve him from later. Without a skilled illustrati of flesh to knit his muscles back together, Dominic would never walk again, but there were other illustrati, if Vidre could find a way to move him. Welexi was having none of it though.

“Give me a moment to grieve,” said Vidre.

“I’m afraid there is much to be done yet this day,” said Welexi. He frowned slightly. It was the sort of frown that she had seen many times before. It was the frown that Welexi gave when the story had started to take a turn he did not like.

“All the same,” replied Vidre.

“I’ll be here to comfort you, should you need it,” replied Welexi. “You make take a moment to do what you believe needs to be done.”

There had been nothing for it but to throw Dominic off the balcony. It was a drop of more than a hundred feet, not quite the incredible drop they’d done from the Ministry of Legends the day before, but not something that an ordinary man could expect to survive. Calligae was down below, but not expecting to have to catch a falling man. What she was about to do was almost certainly the murder of a man who was, if not an innocent, then at least someone she’d confided in. Dominic had known her, past the surfaces and facets she presented to the world. They might have become true friends, given time.

Vidre blunted her daggers before the moment of impact, leaving the tip just sharp enough to cut into the flesh of the abdomen. In all her years of traveling, she’d never had cause to pretend to stab someone. It was almost like pulling a punch, something that she’d never been terribly good at. She made three quick cuts, enough to bleed and look suitably brutal, then kicked Dominic in the chest, sending him sailing over the edge. She turned away before she could see the result.

She had never been religious when she was a young girl. After her early marriage, she had learned the words and rituals, but her tutors were far more concerned with making sure that everything was correct and proper than instilling in her any sense of respect for gods. Later, when she had traveled the world, she saw too many religions preaching too many things; at the center of almost all of them was some monolithic figure who had claimed to speak with — or in some cases, be a physical manifestation of — a god. Praying was just a way of expressing hope; it didn’t actually do anything. Yet after Vidre had sent Dominic over the edge, she said a small prayer all the same.

Calligae watched Vidre carefully. She must have seen him, but she gave no shout of recognition. She had been in Parance the day before, assaulting the Ministry of Legends. Now she was at Castle Launtine, shortly after a large explosion had blown a hole in the side of it, leaving bedchambers open to the air and rubble down below. A fair number of the dead men at the iron gate were surely her work. Calligae had no intention of fighting her a second time, especially not if Welexi was with her. He had fought alongside them in the Peddler’s War, enough to see that they were killers. He stopped where he was, waiting to see what was going to happen next. If she dropped down to him, he would have to leave his horse behind. He was fairly certain that with the wind at his back, he would be able to outrun her.

When she propped a body up on the balcony, Calligae dismounted. The form was vaguely recognizable as the boy he’d chased the day before. His head lolled to the side; he was limp. Vidre was speaking to him, saying something indistinct even with Calligae’s efforts to still the wind. When she kicked the boy off the balcony, she gave a brief glance toward Calligae, watching him for an almost imperceptible second. The boy fell. Calligae raced for him.

His control of the domain of air extended three feet from his body. He ran at a sprint, working the air around him, thinning the air in front of him and pushing a wind at his back. When he reached the rough stone a hundred feet below Castle Launtine, he launched himself upward, using the wind to propel him higher. At the apex of the jump he pushed himself toward the stone with a gust of air, then kicked off from it with a second jump. His timing wasn’t quite right, but he managed to snag the boy’s limp arm in mid-air. They were both falling. Calligae pulled the boy in closer, generating the most powerful upward wind he could all the while. They still landed on the ground with a hard thud, but nothing an illustrati couldn’t shrug off.

Calligae sat up and shook his head. He hadn’t done a stunt like that in — well, not since the day before, when he’d taken a running leap from the twenty-fifth floor of the Ministry of Legends. Before that, it had been years. He looked over at the boy and noticed blood on his stomach. A brief check showed that the wounds were only superficial. That only raised more questions.

“Are you alright?” asked Calligae. “I get the sense that you and I have things to talk about.”

“Mmmmmrnn,” said the boy.

Calligae looked closer. He had worried for a moment that the boy was paralyzed, or that he’d been made insensate through a hit on the head, but the eyes were alert and the head at least was moving. When he saw the muscles beneath the skin moving without changing the position of the arms, Calligae felt a slight sickness in his stomach. That could only be Gaelwyn’s work.

“Can you speak at all?” asked Calligae. “Or was that taken from you as well?”

“Ehh hhoo,” said the boy.

“Come on then,” said Calligae. He got to his feet and brushed the dust from his robes. “Vidre had you at her mercy and chose to give you a superficial wound. It’s a message I’ll need to decipher.” He picked the boy’s limp body up from the ground, making sure to cradle the head like he would a child. Riding two to a horse wasn’t ideal, especially not with one of them unable to respond to the horse, but Calligae had taken the sick and injured off the battlefield often enough that he had some practice. It wouldn’t be fast, but he hoped that he didn’t need to be. It was the work of a few minutes to get the boy situated. Calligae sat behind him, with his arms folded around the boy’s waist. Throughout this, Calligae glanced up at the balcony where Vidre had been, but there was nothing to see there.

“Eh weh eh geh,” said the boy. His jaw moved, but his tongue was unsteady in his mouth in the same way that head seemed to not want to stay upright upon his neck.

“I can’t understand you,” said Calligae. “We’ll get you to someone who can fix you. I’m not sure that I owe Vidre that much, if this is indeed what she intended, but it seems as though the Iron Kingdom is no longer the safe place I had imagined it to be.”

Dominic had never imagined he would understand the expression “impotent rage” so well as he now did. His tongue could move, but only slightly. He could shape his lips and move his eyes. Nothing else was working. He sat on the horse, held in place by strong hands, not knowing where they were going. He had lost more power than most people could dream of ever having. Everywhere he saw a shadow he was reminded of that; when he closed his eyes, the darkness didn’t help him forget. It would have been a travesty if he had been reduced down to the level of a mortal man, but it was far worse than that. Perhaps some day Dominic would run again, but for now he was trapped within his own body, unable to speak or move of his own volition. He briefly wished that Vidre had killed him until thinking better of it. He now wished that he had fled on his own, racing away before he could face the moment of truth. Or better, that he had thrown his lot in with Faye from the start and slit Welexi’s throat in the middle of the night when he was supposed to be keeping watch. A part of him shied away from the imagined violence, but the anger was bubbling up in him with nowhere to go. It might have been easier to accept what had happened to him if so much of it hadn’t been his fault.

Calligae brought them to a stop for a midday lunch. Dominic didn’t recognize the roads they were traveling down, but he was certain that they weren’t returning to Parance. While the horse grazed at a nearby pasture, Calligae propped Dominic up on a rock and trickled water into Dominic’s mouth from a water skin.

“I didn’t plan on having to leave the Iron Kingdom today,” said Calligae. “Long habit taught me to bring more food than I expected to need, which I hope you’re grateful for.” He smiled slightly. “Now, I have a few questions for you.”

“Hrrr ah,” said Dominic. His tongue could only make marginal movement, not enough to speak any words.

“I’ll restrict it to yes and no,” said Calligae. “You can manage at least that, can’t you?”

“Ehh,” said Dominic. It came out as a low moan.

Calligae asked his questions quickly, keeping them simple. Some of it was merely to confirm what he’d already said he suspected. “Ehh,” it was Gaelwyn who had left Dominic in such a state. “Ohhh,” Dominic had no access to the domain of shadow. “Ehh,” the Iron King was dead. Dominic gave an emphatic “ehh” when Calligae asked whether Welexi had given Gaelwyn his orders. Dominic was frustrated by the process; there was so much more that he wanted to say, things that needed explanation, not just about the depth of the betrayal he’d suffered but the artifact that Welexi had used and the conspiracy that Lothaire had headed.

Calligae checked Dominic’s stomach, where Vidre had left her wounds. If Calligae was right, it was an odd way of saying that she didn’t want to kill him. He’d seen no tenderness in her eyes when she stabbed him. He tried to think of why she might have wanted to save him. He wondered whether she actually cared, or if this was only part of some plot. Perhaps she was hoping that he could be fixed, made whole again and turned useful. Whatever closeness there had been between them was obviously destroyed now. Dominic didn’t know whether they’d ever see each other again.

“Huhur,” said Dominic. He didn’t know what he was trying to express. Making noises with his mouth was only a way of giving form to his emotions. He would have screamed at the world, if he thought he could manage it.

“Not the best of times for you,” said Calligae. “Not the best of times for the Iron Kingdom either, if I have my guess.”

“Huhhh,” said Dominic.

“Welexi is at the heart of it,” said Calligae. He dug into his pack and pulled out some meat and cheese, which he ate as he spoke. “I’m fairly certain of that. Vidre handed you to me, a bit ungently, but I don’t imagine that she had many options. I could have watched you fall to your death. She had to have known that what she was doing was desperate. If I hadn’t been there, do you think she would have leaped with you? But with no way to cushion the fall, you might not have survived. I’ve heard of that happening before. An illustrati caught a man falling from fifty feet, but his neck still snapped on impact.” Calligae sighed. “Where was I?”

Dominic looked at the old man. “Ehh,” he said.

“Right,” nodded Calligae. “Welexi is at the center of it. Vidre was acting under some constraints. Of the rest of the members of your merry band, that leaves Gaelwyn. He’s always been Welexi’s lapdog, though I mean no offense by it. I had always wondered whether Welexi would take a turn towards villain. It happens often, among illustrati of particularly high standing. Waning glory pushes men towards unsavory acts. They know gossip and scandal can sustain them where good deeds did not.” He furrowed his eyebrows. “Yet I don’t think that’s the case for Welexi. There were always rumors about him, but that must be expected whenever there is someone widely renowned. When he began to call Gaelwyn friend, those rumors redoubled. You’re young enough that perhaps you never knew it to be any different. I’ll be interested to see what conversation we might have when we get you fixed?”

“Eh uhr uh huuh?” asked Dominic. He hoped the inflection would get his point across.

Calligae gave a soft smile. “You and I are going to pay a visit to the Bone Warden.”

What was Gaelwyn without Welexi?

He was asking himself that question again. Ropes of muscle were coiled within his arms, in a way that wasn’t natural to any creature that he’d ever touched. There were things that nature had never dreamed of. The construct beneath his collarbone was more conventional, as these things went, modeled on the long tongue of a frog and anchored to the bone so that a quick, hard twitch would send the muscle unrolling itself at a high speed, cracking forward like a whip. It was woefully imperfect, based on a design he’d thought up years ago but never tested, but it was enough to get the job done. Gaelwyn had looked at proper tentacles before, those which could provide for independent movement without skeletal support. They were far more complicated though; muscles could only contract or relax, which meant that different muscle groups would have to work against each other. Because he couldn’t create new nerves from whole cloth, Gaelwyn would have to rely entirely on his domain sense in order to control the tentacles and take sensory information from them. Worse, domain intuition was failing him; tentacles were instinctual to a squid but these new creations required thought. What he’d ended up making was laughably simple, even if it had proven effective. Given time, he could improve them significantly.

Gaelwyn didn’t know if he wanted to become a better fighter.

He had watched dispassionately as Vidre stabbed Dominic in the stomach and kicked him in the chest. It was a curiously cruel way to kill the boy. A slit across the throat with one of those startlingly sharp glass daggers would have been cleaner. The loss of blood would have left Dominic unconscious almost before he hit the ground. The stomach though, that was a longer, lingering death, even if she’d cut through to the renal artery. Gaelwyn took it for symbolic; he had little doubt that Vidre didn’t want Dominic to die, but when Vidre did unpleasant things she liked to make them as unpleasant as possible. She was a sow wallowing in the muck, immersing herself in it because that might allow her to believe that she was there by her own choice.

Lothaire had said that Vidre was going to kill him. He had little doubt that this was true. They had never quite gotten along. If Welexi weren’t there as a common bond, they might have amicably parted ways many years ago. Unfortunately, the fact that they were constantly in each other’s presence had turned what was perhaps a mild dislike into a lasting undercurrent of enmity. If Lothaire was telling the truth, then Vidre was going to be a problem.

Gaelwyn wondered whether Welexi had figured that out yet, or whether some action would need to be taken on his behalf.

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2 thoughts on “Shadows of the Limelight, Ch 19: The Childish Bride”

  1. Just finished binge reading this story and I feel pretty unsatisfied. There’s a lot focus on Dominic’s training and his development of his power, but there’s no “payout” ie. there’s never a scene where he shows the fruit of his labor to come to victory. And now his power his gone and based on the pacing of the story, it feels like we’re reaching the end. It just feels like a bunch of lows with no highs.

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