Elaine 22: "Shattered"

        In a daze, I found myself standing in front of Jero's door. I hesitated - still guilty about my recent treatment of him, but found myself knocking anyway.
        A grumbly, sleepy Jero answered the door after a moment. "Elaine!" His ire at being woken seemed to vanish upon the sight of me, no doubt because I promptly began to cry. "Jero, I..."
       "You sure are," he pulled me inside and sat me down on the couch, then held out his hands to me.
       I fell into his arms, sobbing against his shoulder. Brokenly, I related the details of my conversation with Harlan. He just held me until I managed to regain some of my composure. "You must think me quite the silly goose, going on like this" I said, wiping my eyes.
       "No, Elaine, I don't. I'm surprised you've stopped already, actually."
       I shrugged. "It is catharsis, but a painful one in its own way. And it will not change what has passed." I looked up at Jero. "Perhaps I should have left well enough alone."
       "It doesn't change what is past, but it helps you get past what has changed." He stopped, looking mildly pleased with himself for his words of wisdom, before he continued in a more serious manner. "I've never told you, but I was in love once."
       I was faintly surprised at that. Jero and I had known each other practically all our lives, and shared almost everything. "You were?"
       He nodded. "I was. And I *did* leave well enough alone, because I knew there was no point. And how do you think I feel about it to this day?"
       The lok in his eyes told me how he felt. "Regretful, no doubt."
       "Yes. And I don't even have to think twice about what I'd do if I'm lucky enough to have it happen again."
       I knew what he meant, but I didn't think it would be as easy in this case. "Harlan is so afraid of endangering me, I fear that if I were to press the issue, he would just bolt again." I put my head in my hands. "I can't compete with his fears, Jero. When he gets these notions in his head, he's as impossible... as impossible as I am."
       "They say opposites attract, and that's true. But it takes someone *like* yourself to love. So... that only makes sense." He looked off into the distance for a bit. "You can't make him take a chance, I guess. It's just a damn shame."
       And I cried myself to sleep in his arms.

       Keir took my report and gestured me to sit. He glanced through it as I detailed the important issues: the collapse of the Chaosian senate, Emma's speech to them, the artifacts, the Summoner's Guild.
       The subject came around to Harlan when I brought up the Chaos artifacts. "We should get you a bodyguard," he said, eyeing me with some concern."
       I frowned slightly. "I'm more worried about Harlan. If we can keep him from haring off into shadow..."
       "Uh, Harlan left," Keir said, quietly.
       I just sat there. Keir's statement brought back the conversation of the previous night. "What if you, just by being you, knew you could accidentally kill me at any moment? What would you do?" I was a fool. An utter fool to think that he would have stayed just because he had sent me away.
       Rigid with both anger and sorrow, I commented, "I had hoped that given our agreement he might have stayed."
       "Agreement?" Keir gave me an odd look.
       "Regarding our... relationship. Which isn't, anymore." I said flatly. I left shortly thereafter, unable to bear the quiet sympathy in Keir's expression.

       I spent some hours with Gillian, throwing my attention and motivation to aquiring new skills. She is a competent instructor, and I cannot help but feel comfortable with her. After all, we share a warped sort of sisterly bond in that we both dislike my mother.
       But her company was a soothing balm, and she kept my attention from wandering back to the events of last night. When we finished some hours later, I felt better, and clear-headed enough to start formulating some manipulation of my own.
       I had just finished with Gillian when Jero found me, looking like he had remembered an unpleasant tale to tell. He led me about the castle for the better part of an hour, grumbling to himself and skirting all my questions. Finally, I balked at going any further without an explanantion.
       "I was looking for that hall with the mirrors. Something..." His expression soured. "I found it not long after you went off looking for information about Harlan, and, well... all the mirrors were shattered."
       he stepped forward and grabbed my arm as I paled. The chandeliers were dark, and there was barely enough light to see. But at the end a familiar figure stood watching before turning away and stepping through a mirror. A momentary pause of indecision ended when a blinding light issued forth from all the mirrors, and a deafening sound as they began to shatter, from the point that Harlan vanished to where she stood, transfixed. The silence that followed was almost as deafening as the cataclysm that led to it. She looked to a cracked mirror near her, and saw its shattered lines reflected in the pattern of blood across her face...
       "It was Harlan," I choked out, and the stunned surprise on Jero's face at my pronouncement confirmed that my dream had been of some substance. "I dreamt of it."

       I spent the next days almost exclusively with Gillian, focusing my attention soley on my studies so my mind would not wander to ache in my heart, nor the disturbing implications of what I had learned from Jero about the Hall of Mirrors, and what my dream of that event could truly mean. I avoided everyone other than Gillian, until my enforced solitude began to feel worse than the confrontations I was avoiding would.
       My conversation with Justin was the most uncomfortable he and I have had to date. We sparred about my return to Glorethien and my plans. And then when he handed me the sword....
       I started in stunned silence at Harlan's blade. It was a symbol of him severing his last ties to Amber, I knew, and I found it disturbingly appropriate.
       Justin shrugged. "I'd rather it not go to Benedict or Keir."
       I nodded, not trusting my voice enough to try and speak. I just took the sword and left.

       I was more than ready to get away from Amber for a while, but before I could make my way off, Benedict summoned me. He introduced me to a young woman I had seen about on occasion. "This is Celia Greylion," Benedict gave me a stern look. "She is to be your bodyguard."
       Unlike Joaquim, I have not the panache to try and circumvent Benedict's 'requests'. Besides, I was going to be shortly asking him to do something rather difficult, so I thought it best to stay on his good side.
So it was a party of three that set out for Glorethien: myself, Jero and Celia rode off that afternoon, each of us wrapped in the silence of our own musings.

       I held the small green stone in my hand, having pried it free from the scepter that had been it's home for the Lady only knows how long. Celia eyed it somewhat suspiciously as I told her, under no circumstances, should she ever touch it. And then I shooed her out of the room.
       Some hours and a mild headache later, I set the stone's twin in the scepter, the original tucked safely into my skirts. I wasn't sure if my ruse would have any effect, but I felt it worth the effort.
       My plan was risky, but then so was anything anymore. Both the enemy and I knew the location of the artifact, and just because I have been lucky so far in avoiding their attempts to get me and the stone, I was not counting onthat to continue.
       It would be much more difficult if neither they or I knew where the damn thing was...

       I emptied the stone into my hand, and Benedict's brow raised. "I assume Keir passed along my report?"
       He eyed the stone. "Is that..."
       I nodded. "I think it would be best if I didn't have any idea where this is."
       Benedict gave me a long look, then nodded. "I think I can deal with that."

        I didn't bother with hello when my mother answered her door and let me in. "One small question to start. Did you know the true nature of the Danjani when you set thing in motion in Glorethien?"
       Her eyes widened slightly in surprise. "You've been busy."
       I smiled sweetly. "Yes, I have." It was a small moment of victory, but it felt quite good to have surprised her even that little bit. But she was unable or unwilling to tell me much more about it, prefering to once again maneuver me. "I sopke with Justin this morning," she said, almost as an aside.
       I resisted the spiteful urge to express my sympathy for him, and let her continue. "I posed some uncomfortable questions to him," she smiled at me slightly. "I think perhaps he could use some comfort."
       I stood. I would go see him, but not for that. "Frankly, I am in no mood to give comfort to anyone." I smiled darkly at her perturbed expression, and left her to her musings.

       "My mother told me I should come and 'comfort' you," I said as I walked in his door. "But I thought I'd come let you know I returned," I once again settled into a chair.
       He looked at me, arms crossed> "Did you stay away from the artifact?"
       I smoothed my skirts. "Define 'away'..."
       I don't know what it is about Justin that he brings out the imp in me. Perhpas it is just because I enjoy our verbal sparring so. Usually when I get into one of these moods Jero heads for the hills, and Harlan, well, he never knew how to dealw ith the 'shark', as he refered to my darker side. But Justin, he not only seems to accept it, but enjoy it.
       Then, given his parentage and aquaintance with my mother...
       But Justin, I have discovered is one to always have the last laugh. He just smiled at me. "That replica isn't going to fool anyone."
Talk with Justin.

       His appearance at my door had been completely unexpected to me, but I had to admit I admired his gumption. Still, I escorted him and his burden to Benedict's office.
       "This isn't going to give me much of a head start," Blaine sighed.
       I only smiled, enjoying his discomfort. "Who said I was going to let you have one."
       In Benedict's office I found him and Desire. I made introductions, and when Benedict aked us to leave, I looked at Blaine a moment before turning to my uncle. "If you would, please make sure he does not leave before I speak to him?"
       Blaine paled in a most gratifying way as I walked out the door.
       Benedict summoned me back in not long later. I gestured to Blaine, who was in turn staring at Benedict with a pleading expression. "Walk with me, cousin." I held open the door for him, and he slowly skulked out.
       "Perhaps," I started when we were about halfway down the hall, "your stay of execution can be... extended." I quizzed him, and gained some more bits of information, but I fear I still did not know quite the right questions to ask.
       We walked in silence for a long moment, Blaine periodically glancing down at me out of the corner of his eye.
       "Something on your mind?" I eventually inquired.
       "Just wondering when you are going to kill me." The look of resignation on his face almost made me chuckle. I stopped, and gave him a long, measuring look. My ire toward him had cooled somewhat, enough for my sense of practicality to take control. Blaine had his uses. "Honestly, Blaine, my heart's no longer in it."
       He started, looking at me with an incredulous expression before basically bolting down the hall. I watched him go. "Don't think this let's you entirely off the hook," I said softly to his retreating form. "I am not yet done with you."

       I did not find the mysterious Diana in the infirmary, but I did find Eve, Christoph and some newcomers. We shared our recents activities, and more pieces began to fall into place. I resolved to sit down with each of them in the near future, but I had other things to do at the moment.
       Diana did know know much of her captors, and I soon left her to rest, with the offer off assistance should she need it. My head was awhirl with information, schemes, plots, and I realized I needed to discuss it with someone removed from the center of this particular quagmire.
        I was on my way to find Raphael when he appeared looking for me. We adjourned to my rooms, as Rufus and Eve were apparently bickering in his. I set out a tray of tea things, and settled on the other end of the couch.
       Regarding my teacup solemnly, I ventured, "Do you ever feel that even when you are attempting to try your own hand, make your own way through life, you are still doing things another has set for you, without even realizing it?"
       He nodded. "Of course. In our peculiar and unenviable situation, how could we not?"
       "Too true." I sighed slightly. "I'm just finding it increasingly frustrating. The more I discover of Mirelle's manipulations, the more I feel that she has planned for every possible move I could make."
       Raphael smiled a little. "The way I deal with it is to remind myself that no one can plan for everything... it also helps that I believe I serve a greater planning committee."
        "I envy you that, sometimes, brother." I sipped at my tea a moment. "I thought that, perhaps, somehting had come along that could give myself to without reservation, but I was mistaken," I added quietly. As much as I wished Raphael's counsel on this, I could not bring myself to mention Harlan's name, because of the role he played in Griselda's death. It would be unfiar to my brother.
       He offered me the plate of crackers. "I'd advise against giving your whole self over," he said, "to anything. That is a treacherous path. On the whole, balance is preferred. And with that said...." he looked at me. "I'm very sorry. Is there anything I can do, now that I got the obligatory lecture out of the way?"
       That elicited a small laugh. "I'm not sure. I've lost something dear to me, Raphael, and I'm not sure how, or if I can get it back."
        "It's in the past. You can never get it back. But the gift of the future is that there must be something equally precious ahead. It may even be with the person you thought you lost..."
       I looked off across the room, unable to meet his gaze for a moment. "I find that my normal optomism isn't in this situation. But as you said, it is past, and I have far darker things to mull over than a broken heart." I looked back to Raphael. "There is a group in Chaos planning to summon the Serpent."
       Raphael, who looked on the verge of contradicting my earlier statements, stopped and blinked. "What, by the Bright Horn, would that accomplish, I wonder?"
       "Considering those involved, nothing good, I can imagine. But I think our mother knows more about it than I have been able to pry out of her."
       "That, my sister, is almost a given."
        I nodded. "I thought you should know of this Summoner's Guild's plan. They too, speak of a prophesy. 'From the Serpent's Wrath on Mimeth's Plain a new emperor shall rise.' Whether or not that has something to do with thir intentions, I do not know. But I hope that I have made a small step in thwarting them."
       He raised a curious brow, and so I told him of the artifacts, Harlan's background, and of my newfound Chaosian heritage, and the role it played in the goals of the Summoner's Guild.
        He listened quietly throughout. "I see," was his only comment when I completed my tale. I sighed deeply. "I know not if this information will do you or your father any good, but I refuse to play our other's game and hold things back." I shrugged. "Besides, it isn't doing me much good right now. Perhaps you will find a use for it."
       "Perhaps." He hesitated a moment. "The Church is concerned about something... something that I'm going to relate to you. I trust your discretion on this matter."
       "Of course."
       "A few days ago, I got word from an old friend that the Church was... less pure than we'd thought. Specifically, a very respected and venerable churchman was nothing less than a spy for Chaos. The details of this event are such that... well, let's just say that this spy wasn't there to harm. Ironically, perhaps, he gave us a keystone to saving everything we hold dear."
        It was now my turn to give him a curious look. "Chaos is gearing up for an internal war," he went on. "The Church there looks unfavorably upon this... "
       "Indeed." I mused upon my conversation with Tabitha. "When I was at the Library of Memnos, there was a woman there. A member of the Church in Chaos. She said that the Senate had been disbanded."
       "Indeed, it has. There is a race on-going with the factions there to summon the Serpent and proclaim an Emperor. My counterpart in the Church wishes to put an end to it. Through his spy, he communicated all sorts of strange news." He paused. "Apparently, the Church there is a little less abstract in their worship. Fifty years ago or so, the Serpent awoke from its long slumber. Ah, of course, you have no notion of what I'm referring to. Here." He pulled out a scroll. "A transcription of the relevent passage in the Book of the Serpent. The annotations were made by the spy to which I refer, who also translated it into Thari. I have no notion as to the accuracy nor completeness of the translation."
        I read it, then slowly quoted the nursery rhyme. "Your mention of the emperor... Tabitha, the woman we met, mentioned that an oracle proclaimed the next emperor. Unfortunatley, some overzealous individuals killed the oracle before the full name was pronounced. Waht was said was 'Divor-'." I looked up. "Harlan is the last heir of House Divornan."
       "Much like there are any number of children running around the Golden Circle with the first name of Barrimen, there are a number of men in Chaos named Divornan, or some variation thereof. One house has already come forward, with young Divornan Sawall as their figurehead in the coming war. I don't think anyone there really knows about Harlan, yet."

       I pulled up my horse a few shadows past the edge of Adren and sent forth the call. Not long after a hawk winged it's way in and landed upon my outstretched arm, which I had padded prior to this trip. It regarded me with inscrutable eyes as I pulled forth what it was to carry.
       The pendant was simple; a silver disk upon which was engraved the signet symbol of my House. It had been a gift from my father on my sixteenth birthday, when he officially proclaimed me to be his heir. I wrapped it about the hawk's leg, using it to secure my note.
       I sent the bird winging on its way. The note itself was simple. I was not sure what more could be said, or for that matter, should be said. It was enough I hoped, though, to make my feelings known.