"Well, at least we know he's feeling better," I said under my breath.
"Oh, was that you?" The orc looked daggers at me.
"I'm afraid so."
"You could have killed him."
"Wasn't for lack of trying."
"Point us in the right direction, we'll be glad to try again," Meara said.
"I have no idea where he is. Although he's looking for you."
"Ah. Well then, he might solve that problem for us." I shrugged.
"We'll be seeing you on the warpath someday," Meara told the orc in lieu of farewell.
"Right." He sounded more tired than either of us would have thought possible.
"In the meantime, we're going to be around for a while, maybe working up some trade routes or something, so keep it in mind."
"Yeah... It's not the hundred and fifty dead warriors on sticks, it's the hundred dead females," he sighed.
"Bastard," she murmured. "Did he do that, too?"
"He killed everybody in the hills. He took two of them."
"The up side is," she said as we walked back to our companions, "if he does slaughter us all, certain of your relatives will get a mite pissy."
"I'd rather do it myself." I don't particularly expect to survive this, but there's no sense worrying about it. "It's a little thing I have."
"Well it would be more fun that way."
We resumed our journey. The rose maze was still there, although somewhat changed. For one thing, both sides of the maze now came out in the same place, and it wasn't either of the places we had been to before.
It was a large, open field with a... building... in the middle. I hesitate to call it a castle, since it gave the barest nod to any sort of defensive function, favoring elaborate ornamentation, much of it with a rose motif. It was built of black marble, of course. A black marble bridge led over a moat full of black rose bushes. Once in a while the surface rippled, as if there was something swimming beneath the surface.
"So the Lord of Flame and Darkness doesn't want him dead because he killed members of his court, he wants him dead because he's a showy bastard," Meara hypothesized.
As we came nearer it became clear that there was no one on the walls, and the door was ajar. We exchanged a somewhat confused look. It seemed strange to say the least, and yet too obvious to be a trap. And even if it was, since we wanted to find him....
"I'm not entirely certain, but I think that entire tower is just decoration," Meara noted.
"I wonder what would happen if I walked in there and unfurled the standard."
"So tempting, but we probably should refrain from that temptation."
"At least until we find out whether or not he's home, otherwise it would be a pretty wasted gesture."
"Do you want to accept the unspoken invitation?"
"Not particularly." I stared at the door.
"Once he knows that this is here, we're never going to be able to convince Conner to come here."
"Things like falling asleep for a hundred years keep running through my head when I look at this place."
"That's true, and that would be unfortunate." She was halfway across the bridge.
"Oh, all right." I sighed. It worries me when people have less common sense than I do.
She put a knife in the doorframe, for whatever good it would do. We all noted that the lock on the door was made of iron. It was also huge; the key must be bigger than my hand.
"Wynn's careless use of iron really annoys me."
"It's probably not careless at all," Meara pointed out. "It's probably all very well thought out for ostentatious show."
"He shouldn't be doing it at all."
The interior was large, ostentatious, made of black marble, and empty.
"Anybody home?" Her voice echoed.
We moved forward, toward what should be the great hall.
We passed the door to a stable. We looked at each other; this was not normal design for castles, otherworldly or not.
"How interesting," I muttered, and went to take a look. There was a single black steed stabled there. It looked relatively normal, for a Fae horse; it was even eating hay. Meara said good day to it, and we passed on to the great hall. No fabric, no wood, just stone and iron. Lots of black roses.
"We could lend him one of the decorators from the palace.... This guy is creeping me out."
Wynn might not be home at the moment, but it seemed likely that he was somewhere nearby; his sword was hanging over the throne. Its malice was clear from across the room. The runes on the blade named it Hunger, and the word "vicious" came to mind; there were spikes and barbs aplenty, and the forward ends of the guard were bladed. The hilt was wrapped in some sort of hide and then in something barbedrose branches, thorns intact.
The pommel stone was large, round, and gently glowing black. It bore a slight resemblance to Emer's ring; if it was the same material, it was radiating a lot more power, quite aside from being the largest spherical onyx any of us had ever seeif onyx is what it was.
"There's nothing like concrete evidence that your enemy is completely around the bend," I muttered, staring at the thing. Imagining what it must be like to wield it, there wasn't anything in the world that would have gotten me to touch it.
"I think this blade illustrates a little further than around the bend, like the bend might not be in sight any longer," Meara commented. "Let's see if our host is lounging at ease in the solar or something."
"We'll probably not get another chance to look around the place," I agreed. We did a fairly thorough search, but Wynn didn't seem to be home. The towers each had their own dedicated purposes, like holding the souls of the damned, or severed limbs. One floor was for blue gems, one for red gems, and so forth, sorted by size. We found four wardrobes, mostly black, and if anything less fanciful than you find with most Fae; more roses, no surprise there. There was everyday dress, High Court dress, war and destruction dress, and outfits for miscellaneous brooding.
"I'm going to look for oghams; keep an eye on me," Llweder told us. This was not a friendly place, he found, even in comparison to the blood-drenched rose maze, but he could learn a lot of summoning spells from studying this place. It was all dripping with hunger, ambition, and a sense of blindness to consequences.
"If we can actually do anything to this individual, it's going to be because he did something that fucked up bad, like pinning the sun in place," Meara opined.
"Which oddly enough doesn't seem to have slowed him down so far," I noted.
"Yes, but you know something, consequences have interesting ways of showing up at the wrong times."
What would be the right time, I wonder.
Gannon looked around and found some things he wished he hadn't; some of them might not have been dead yet.
On our way back, Meara switched a couple of the gems, putting a green gem in the blue gem room, and in the wrong size spot to boot. "Just to piss him off," she explained. "I wonder where he is during the day." We returned to the great hall.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al