Karla had received a note. It had appeared on her desk with neither her Steward nor her maids certain how it had gotten there. The half-sheet of parchment had been folded into thirds and sealed with a few drops of black wax. She'd been a hesitant to open it, a hesitation that had only grown when she'd picked it up. There was a foreboding and a bone-deep rage trapped in the fibers. That it was Jaenelle's did not make Karla feel much better.
Meet me at the Keep at dawn. Your expertise will be required.
Taking a deep breath, Karla vanished the note and sent commands for a Coach to be readied for her immediate departure. Jaenelle was expecting her at dawn, but Karla wasn't one to wait. Not when she could feel the coldness of Jaenelle's fury as an ache in her fingers. She could think of the kind of expertise Jaenelle might require from a Queen who was also a triply-aspected witch--and also the kind that she might require from Karla and her years in Fandom. What she didn't know what why.
Once she'd gained entry to the residential section of the Keep, she immediately made for Jaenelle's suite there. As a member of the Dark Court, Karla technically had a set there as well, though she rarely made use of it. She could already tell that Jaenelle was not present; her dark psychic scent permeated the air, but was not as rich or intoxicating as it would be if she were within. Still, Karla knocked anyway before letting herself in--a habit, and a precaution, since some of the kindred Warlord Princes who served her were fiercely protective, even to one of Jaenelle's oldest friends.
As she opened the door, the cold rage filling the room stopped her before she'd taken the first step. It made the hint she'd gotten from the letter seem like one of Kayla's bouts of fussing. She gritted her teeth and moved forward, each step a test of will, until she stood in front of the worktable and stared at the reason Jaenelle had summoned her.
The curtains were still open, and the moonlight was enough to make the spidersilk look silvery in the dark room. A tangled web. The kind of web Black Widows used to see dreams and visions. She hadn't cut any of the threads. Hadn't destroyed the web. She'd left it intact knowing she'd summoned the most curious of her Sisters, another Black Widow who could look into that web and see the same vision. Her.
Not quite an invitation to look, but the tacit offer to let Karla see what she had seen was the reason she turned and walked out of the room. It was enough to know whatever she'd seen had produced the cold rage that lingered there.
Karla was vastly unsurprised to see Draca waiting for him by the time she reached the first of the Court's common rooms. She was the Keep's Sceneshal. Had always been the Keep's Seneschal. And a very, very long time ago, she had been the dragon Queen who, when her own race's time in the world had finally come to an end, had shed her power along with her scales. The females those scales had touched had become the first Blood, inheriting an old power to become the new guardians of the Realms.
In a very real sense, Karla could trace her own lineage back to the dragons that once spiraled into Ebony, catching stars in their tails.
Draca looked human now, and ancient, but the reptilian cast to her features intimidated most people. She used that to her advantage when dealing with the scholars who requested access to the Keep's library and the sycophants who requested access to the Keep's Queen. All told, she generally went easier on the scholars; at least they asked for things meant for their use.
"Draca," Karla said, bowing slightly in her severely-tailored suit.
"Karla," she replied, giving the young Queen a small smile.
"Jaenelle told me to meet her here. Where is she?"
"Sshe iss expecting you at dawn, Lady."
"I'm here now. My friend is not."
"The Queen hass gone to the Keep in Terreille."
There were three Keeps, just as there were three Ebon Askavis, one in each of the Realms. If Karla understood correctly (and there was no guarantee she did,) they were the central focus point around the Realms turned. A version of SaDiablo Hall existed in Terreille, Kaeleer, and Hell as well, but Uncle Saetan had built those individually. The Keep and the Black Mountain simply were. Karla heard the distinction between her friend and the Queen that Draca had made, realized the warning within it, but still she turned away, intending to go to the Dark Altar within the mountain--one of the thirteen Gates that linked the three Realms. Light the candles in the correct pattern and a way would open to you to either Terreille, Kaeleer, or Hell. Karla didn't know the patterns, but the Priestesses who guarded and served the shrines and altars did.
She stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Terreille is enemy territory. She shouldn't be there and she certainly shouldn't be there alone." Never mind that Jaenelle wore the Ebony, that her power had a depth that made Karla dizzy just to think about, this was her friend and her Queen. And Jaenelle had scars from Terreille that had only barely healed.
"The Keep iss protected."
She knew that, but the need to protect, to shelter--Hell's fire, just to accompany her friend and keep her safe from the ever-present dangers and the shadows in her own mind--were swelling in her until she couldn't think past it, couldn't feel anything but the drive to protect Jaenelle.
The tug of power, of the kinship in her blood made her hesitate.
"Sshe doess not expect you until dawn."
She fought a vicious internal battle, instincts warring with training warring with concern warring with wariness.
"Come," Draca said, her voice gentled with understanding. The door to the common room silently opened, untouched by any hand. "I will summon a portal for you. Take a few hours. Visit your island. Enjoy peace and friendship. When you are needed, I will summon you."
Not trusting herself to speak, Karla nodded, and exited the common room. She was unsurprised to see a portal already irising open. Stepping into it left her feeling like she'd stepped into a cage. In a way, she had. But she had made the choice to obey her Queen. That was the only thing that made stepping through to Fandom tolerable. That and the knowledge that dawn would arrive much more quickly on the island, long before her patience splintered into dust.
[Text adapted, spindled, and mutilated from "Prince of Ebon Rih", Chapter Two by Anne Bishop. Open for phone calls and texts]
- The Estate, Sidra, Glacia to The Keep, Ebon Askavi, Thursday