[Quinn] Sixteen: "Homecomings" [Quinn] Sixteen: "Homecomings"

"Can you feel the real intention
Discern the subtle meanings?
See all the implications?
Can you read the signs?"

--Shriekback, "Signs"

The arguments about what to do with the body lasted for a mercifully short time. In the end they wrapped it in excess saddle blankets and slung it across the back of Dierdre's horse.

And then they moved on.

The shadow transitions were still jarring and abrupt, but Quinn held tightly to her goal. Slowly, more and more pieces fell into place, until she was standing about 20 feet from the copse, the hill rising off to her right. One last test...

She whispered the key to shift her Sight, the old familiar, comfortable patterning of Working the fae. A surge of elation filled her as her vision filled with additional input. Swirling eddies of bluish tendrils flowed about her feet in currents. She 'reached,' gently pushing one. It reacted, twining about her leg before melting back in to the flow. Fae. Earth fae.

Erna. She was home.

So relieved to have made it, she didn't really notice how much more overgrown the area was. Then the argument that ensued when she refused to take Martin's body into Jaggonath shifted her attention from the surroundings all together.

Locke and Simon worked to bury the body, after they'd agreed that was the best plan, and she answered Jess' questions about the fae until a shuddering of the ground interrupted.

Earthquake, she thought idly as she shifted her balance with an ease born of familiarity and long practice. But it didn't subside as it should have, and the rumbling groan pitched higher...

From over the horizon three enormous mechs soared across the sky.

She watched them with an expression of horror. Nothing, nothing like that should exist here! Fae or no fae, it'd only been a few months since she'd left... hadn't it?

They hid themselves out of sight until the mechs had passed and vanished.

"What now?" Simon asked.

A deep unease filling her at the thought of what those technological nightmares boded. "We go to Jaggonath."

***

The city looked as something out of the books of Earth history and the dreams of those who had fought the influence of the fae for so long. It looked as if Erna had achieved its lifelong dream.

But how the hell could this have happened in three months?

A library stood in place of Jaggonath's great Cathedral. She shuddered at the massive change. The Cathedral had been a powerful focal point of Jaggonath, the culmination of the faith of millions.

And it was gone.

Inside, she found an encyclopedia, focusing on history as Jessica and Locke, who had accompanied her, looked for more indications of the present state of things.

The history read much farther beyond the day she'd left, speaking of the rise of technological knowledge and aptitude without the influence of the fae. The last few pages fell over, leaving the date- stamped page of the checkout list. The last date on the list caught her eye.

August 14, 1752 A.S.

The book slipped from her hand, hitting the floor with a loud thump that brought Locke over. "What is it?"

She picked up the volume, flipping once again to the offending page. 1752 A.S. Her finger tapped on the date. "I left here in 1230 A.S...."

***

"What's happened?" Luke caught the play of uneasy emotions across her face as she, Locke and Jessica returned to the group.

"It seems 500 years have passed since I left..."

She stepped away as theories and postulations began to fly. Leaning against her horse, she concentrated, patterning a Sending in her mind. A longshot, but there wasn't much else she could try. Damien...Damien..Damien.DamienDamienDamien...

There was no real expectation of a response, but she Worked her Sight and watched the fae. For the longest time, there was nothing but the normal flow of currents twisting lazily about the trees. Eventually though, she thought she saw the currents begin to shift.

The currents slowly coalesced into a vaguely human shaped form that flitted about the group. "Damien?" she called softly, earning an odd look from Locke as she spoke to apparently nothing. The fae-form stopped and shifted nearer to her. "Damien, is it you?"

In response it reached out an arm which passed right through her. "What's happened?" she tried not to shudder.

Questioning the fae-Damien proved difficult, if not impossible. She was almost to the point of giving up when it moved away, stoppped and turned back to her, then moved a bit farther.

She followed, not even realizing Connie, Luke and Locke had fallen in behind her, looking at her as if she'd gone mad.

The spectre of Damien led them to a small building. Old, not quite run-down, but it filled her heart with a peace and relief when she saw the Church's Earth symbol on the outer wall.

She turned to the fae-figure, but it was already unraveling, the fae flowing back into the eddies and currents. Now Damien, too, was gone.

She swallowed hard, wrestling with the tears that welled up. No time for that now.

The door opened for them, and they stepped through into almost another time. Candles lit the small parish, rows of pews leading to an altar. Near the door, an older man in Church robes, hand scribing from an ancient looking book.

"Father?"

The old man looked up startled, surprised, maybe, that anyone should enter his domain. "Yes, child?"

In reply she slowly pulled out her sword, which she had wrapped to bring into town. Pulling the cloth away from the hilt, she laid it in front of him. The pommel, gold-chased flames twining about the quillions and crossguard, shone softly in the subdued light.

"Ah, now that looks familiar." Reverently he reached out and traced the firey motif on the hilt. "This is the weapon we used to gift to the champions and protectors of our faith." He looked up at her with a wry smile. "Quite a find you have here."

"Can you tell me, Father, what happened to those protectors, the Knights of the Flame?" Her voice broke slightly on the name of her Order.

He spun a story much like what she had read, but added a very interesting piece of information when she queried about the Forest. "Well, it burned out completely. But there's a research center out there now. Seems that they found something odd, a rift of some sort, when they cleared the debris. It's one of the last things that holds anyone to the faith of the Church, a final relic to believe in."

Moving through the flames, she entered a small clearing where the fae seem to congregate to one point. The Jewel shone brightly now, and ahead of her a "bubble" of sorts formed from nothing. The flames closed in, creating a small pocket that held her, Demon, and the "bubble".

The anomaly looked like a perpendicular "drain" into which the fae whirlpooled. Quinn slipped the chain of the Jewel over her head, and used her now freed hand to draw her sword, her other hand tight on Demon's reins. It finished forming and held at a diameter of about 15 feet. The edges waved and pulsated with the rhythm of the pulsations of light from the Jewel. Demon was more than a bit spooked, and the hair was standing up the back of her neck. Her heartbeat fell into time with the pulse of the Jewel, seemingly too slow...

The center of the bubble seemed to show something that didn't look normal; a brightness that shouldn't be, given the dark and smoke and gloom of the Forest. The bubble continued to wave and pulsate in time with the Jewel...

"Thank you father, you've been a great help," she quickly wrapped the sword again, fumbling in her excitement at this news. If the portal were still there, they had a way into RoseAmber, one Brandon may not even know of...

"Of course, my child. It is good to see one so young have an interest in our faith."

She met his eyes one last time. "More so, Father, than you will ever know." She turned, and instead of heading back to the door, walked to the altar. Dropping to her knees, she closed her eyes, bowed her head, and prayed.

***
As she led them toward the area once known as the Forest, she explained the significance of the portal. "It was what led me to RoseAmber."

"So you think it will take us there?"

Grasping the weakened earth fae, she nodded as she began weaving an Obscuring over them. "It's worth a try."

They made it into the research center without oo much incident, the Obscuring covering them and the horses. It took a bit of mental finagleing on Simon's part to "convince" a technician to let them into the restricted area, and a bit more physical persuasion of Jessica's to get them to the portal itself, but they soon found themselves facing a shimmering area of air.

Simon tried to go through it, but only found himself on the other side of the room. "Maybe Quinn has to touch it to activate it," he shrugged.

They formed a chain, Quinn at its fore, in front of the portal.

She stepped into it.

A reeking stench of ozone filled the air, and she felt the hair on her arms rise with he electrical force. But nothing more was happening, it wasn't...

Being triggered? Without really thinking about it, she brought up the RosePattern in her mind.

There was a surge of power, then nothing.

Someone was shaking her, which only made her head hurt. "Are you okay?" She opened her eyes to see Luke crouched over her. She was lying on grass, it felt like.

"I think so," she shook the last muzzyness from her head as Luke helped her to her feet. "What happened?"

He shrugged. "We were going through the portal, and something knocked us out, and we came to here."

"Why..." And then it dawned on her. "Oh, I'm sorry! I brought up the Pattern..." she trailed off as she looked about.

It was an eerie sensation of warped familiarity; the terrain, the vale ahead, just as she remembered, but wrong, somehow.

The key to a Knowing formed on her lips. Sensations filled her mind. Wrong, but right. She'd been here before.

RoseAmber. Home.

But something was at work here, something terrible and harsh. The familiar bright blue sky framed a sickly yellow sun, tinged more green than it should. Clouds raced across the sky, casting an dismal pinkish glow across the land when they passed the sun.

She led them to the valley.

The large open expanse lay before her, empty this time of the battle that had greeted her before.

But not empty of anything.

A large cross sat forlornly in the center of the valley's bowl, a limp figure hanging outstretched from its beams.

Too easy, too easy to be Corwin, she knew, but her heart caught as she Worked despite her common sense. And Corwin it was not.

But Ganelon.

She snapped her reins against the bay, charging down into the valley heedless of the sheer stupidity of such a measure. Too much, seeing him there like that; all the frustration, impatience, anger, fear and worry she's been so good at keeping to herself these last days breaking free.

The bay skidded to a stop at the cross. Ganelon hung just over her head. Steadying the nervous horse, she stood with careful balance on the saddle, and began to cut him down.

Suddenly Jess was there, bracing Ganelon's legs.

She was halfway through the ropes on his right arm when he came to, startled and delerious. He looked as if he had been hanging there for days, left to die of exposure. He began to panic, looking about that the group gathered below.

"Ganelon!" His eyes widened in fear at his name, and she grasped his chin forcing him to focus on her. "Ganelon, look at me. Do you know me?"

Ever so slowly, recognition dawned, to be replaced by a new look of horror. "Quinn? Quinn, you must go!"

"Not until I get you down." She cleaved the last of the ropes, and eased him down to Jessica. They got some water into him, and she Worked a minor Healing before moving him back up to the rim of the valley, under the cover of the woods.

"Ganelon," she knelt next to him, "what happened?"

Hesitantly, he related a disturbing series of events. "Your father was out on patrol, as he often does. We hadn't heard from him for some days when there was a great sense of movement, and some of my men told me the Pattern was gone." He continued on, not even noticing her expression of confusion. "Not long after the army began to come through Arden, right through the very gates, Corwin at their head, propped in the saddle. They overran us..." He looked up at her. "You can't fight them, you can't fight the Serpent!"

She sat back, dazed, trying to digest it all. "The Jewel, Ganelon. Did Dad have the Heart with him?" The mention of the Serpent started a cold knot of fear in her stomach.

"The Jewel," he closed his eyes. "The Serpent has both eyes."

Corwin's stories of Patternfall flooded her mind as the implications of that revelation began to weave together. Ganelon nodded tiredly, reading her own realizations on her face. "You have another place to go, another home. Go back there. This place is lost."

"I will not leave Dad here, Ganelon," Quiet conviction echoed in her voice.

"You'll have no chance against him, you should go..." he moaned. "Corwin would not help him, and he's gone. That makes you ruler here! And what if Brandon find you and uses you to cross!"

"Ganelon, listen!" she resisted the urge to shake him. "We think Brandon's found another way to get to Amber. Through Chaos."

"Then it is no use, everything is lost."

She wanted to scream at him, shake him, purge the despair and defeat from this once strong and fearless man. "He's cheating, Ganelon!" It sounded utterly absurd, even to her, to put in in those terms, but it was true - the bastard was cheating. "But we're going to even the odds." Equally absurd to think they even had a chance, but wasn't that what faith was all about? Belief in the face of the unbelievable?

"I will do anything you ask," his weary gaze rested on her. "You are my liege."

"No!" she said forcefully. "Dad isn't dead. I won't believe it!"

He sighed. "You are as stubborn as your father. Do what you will." He closed his eyes.

"Sleep, now." Quinn laid a gentle hand on his forehead before turning to face her cousins and aunt. "Seems we got a bit more than we bargained for..."

***

It took them almost half an hour to come to an agreement on the next step. Quinn woke Ganelon. "We're going to send you through, to Merlin. You'll be safe there."

He nodded listlessly. "If that is what you wish."

She nodded. "We need to know exactly what happened, Ganelon."

Haunted eyes stared up at her. "I'll do whatever I can..." He spoke of the invasion without expression. It was only when it came to speaking of Corwin did the edge of anguish return to his tone. "Brandon had him there in the courtyard. Told your father he had lost, and that he would help Him, Brandon, now. Corwin refused, and Brand struck him. Said that he could rot in his own dungeon for eternity then. That's all I could see before they dragged me off."

Sitting back on her heeels, she just watched Ganelon for a long moment, filing all the information away for later reference and trying to keep down the anger that was building. Brandon's actions has likely already lost her one home; she'd be damned if she was going to let him have Corwin and RoseAmber too (ignoring for the moment the fact that she had no idea how she was going to stop him).

When Ganelon had finished telling them of the alternate routes into the castle, she handed Jessica the Trump of Merlin, joining in the contact when she saw Jessica had gotten through.

They handed Ganelon through the Trump, holding it open only long enough to exchange a few words.

"It's not good, Merlin. I'm not sure how long it's going to take us."

Merlin didn't look too pleased by that. "Quinn, it's already been two days since you left..." Two days? She filed that away, and with a last worried smile had Jess cut the contact.

***
Staring up at the sickly looking sky made her stomach roil so she flipped over on her bedroll and became very interested in the grass. Connie was off talking to his mother. Simon and Locke slept. Jess, true to her warriorness, was sound asleep, taking the opportunity for rest very seriously. Quinn wished she could do the same.

Luke was sprawled a few feet away, also sound asleep. No matter what Locke said, she trusted him. And she would trust him until given reason not to. Dangerous, perhaps, but if one went through life always expecting to be betrayed, it wasn't much of a life. Luke had done wrong, but she had glimpsed something in him, something that told her, on a gut level, there was a hell of a lot more to him than the personae he held up like a shield.

And besides, could she really blame someone for loving a parent when she just hoped she wasn't going to get them all killed for love of her own father?

***
They had made it to the cell level with suprisingly little incident when Simon stopped them. "Locke thinks, and I agree, that it's a trap, and we're walking right into it."

She nodded. The entire situation had been screaming that very thing at her for some time now. "Trap or not, I can't leave him," she implored. "None of you have to go any further..."

"No!" Simon said soothingly. "We'll get him out of here. But maybe there's another way we can do this without springing the trap."

"How?"

Sheepishly, he met her eyes. "That's the problem. I have no idea."

"Then we go."

The cell stood unguarded. Men made rounds, but no one stood at the door. It set off alarm bells, but she tossed the bar over the door aside and stood back as Locke smashed in the door with little effort. He stepped aside and gestured her in. She knew he wasn't completely happy with what they were doing, but she desperately needed all of their assistance.

The flickering torchlight from the hall was enough to pick out a figure lying on a pallet near the back of the cell. It didn't react at all to their noisy entrance. Biting her lip in apprehension, she crossed the floor and lay a hand on the still form. "Dad?"

The figure shuddered and started at her voice. "Who, what?" Corwin's voice, rough with exhaustion and pain, muttered.

"Dad, wake up, please!" She glanced back at the doorway. Jessica, poised for anything, and Luke, just behind her, were backlighted by the torches.

"Quinn?" He struggled to turn toward her, reaching up to grip her arm. "Quinn, you shouldn't be here." She looked into his gaunt, haggard face, her heart twisting. Something had been done to his eyes. Oh, God, Dad. I never should have left you!

"Come on, Dad. We're getting you out of here." Sheathing her sword, she got an arm around his shoulders and started to pull him up.

She had almost gotten him to his feet when a line of bright white light sprang into being across the room near the floor, neatly cutting her and Corwin off from the door. It began to widen, as if being pulled apart... or open.

Tightening her grip on her father, she backed them against the wall as the light moved quickly for them. It reached the toe of her boot and she realized it was opening a hole under them. She looked up in wild desperation, hoping for something to grab onto, but Corwin's balance was already off, and he fell. She dug in, trying to balance on her heels, but slipped as their ledge vanished from under them.

"No!"

She thought she heard a voice not her own cry out as she started to fall, but there was nothing more as she tumbled into the light.

"The sun's rim dips, the stars rush out.
At one stride comes the dark."
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

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