316: Nine-Tenths Of The Law

on November 16, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Dee Is Beside Herself

My name is Delia Daella d’Wyr, and though I have always been told that I am the firstborn daughter of Daella Degra d’Wyr, this is the basest of lies. I know this to be, for I have just in this very moment been born.

“Dee?” someone bleats.

I look out at the world through the eyes of an infant, but I cannot see the speaker. A tiny square of light pierces my virgin eyes. I reach out with the hands of my mind and pull down the shade, obliterating much of the light. Not all, but enough for now.

“Dee?”

The voice is plaintive and fearful. Now that the light has been dulled, I can see who speaks. It wears the form of a woman, but this is just a shell. I realize that I hate it with all of my heart. I search my mind for a reason, and then realize this is not necessary. It is a defilement of everything I believe in, of course. Its very existence is an affront to me. It mocks the shape and form of motherhood.

“Dee, where are you?” it says again. “Baby, can you see her?”

“Amaranth, be careful!” another voice says. I cannot see the speaker. There is a polygonal pillar made of some pure white stuff in the middle of the room; the voice seems to issue from within it. “That’s not Dee!”

Of course it isn’t. I am Delia Daella d’Wyr.

The thing’s name jars my recollection. Amaranth. I know this creature, though the precise nature of that knowledge proves to be elusive to me. I fight to remember, but something fights back, denying me access to the memory. This is frustrating. If it was talking about me, then who is this bleating homuncula who would address me so familiarly?

It is no matter. I know everything I need to know just by looking at the thing.

“Baby, what happened?” the thing called Amaranth asks. I decide that I cannot abide another word, a single note of that horrible simpering voice and so I reach out to silence it. There is something bright and terrible about the mind behind the thing, and I find I cannot touch it. Instead, I clamp down on its throat.

“You call this structure your baby?” I tell her, speaking in a proper tongue. “This is bad comedy. You are nobody’s mother.” A twitch of my power, a reflexive shrug, and the “mother” is thrown against the “child”. The voice inside the pillar begins to scream. “Though there is something of a family resemblance, I suppose… for instance this column is every bit as useless an adornment as those which decorate your chest. Which shall I demolish first?”

It is clear from her expression that the Amaranth-creature does not comprehend proper speech, but it is just as clear that she understands the tone behind the words. The power by which I am holding her has a feeling to it that is fresh and new. I have a sense that, before my true birth, I did not exercise it often. There is a fleeting memory, a faint impression, of some hesitation. I cannot understand why I would have hesitated to wield this wonderful power.

I cannot comprehend why anyone would have held back, when gifted with the sort of power that can shake the world itself.

I send the bleating cow-thing spinning away from the pillar. I am going to make it watch while I tear the screaming construct down. I reach out with the coils of my power… and touch nothing. It is as though the pillar is not there to be touched. I approach it and reach out with my physical hands. I can feel it in the sense that my hands encounter an impediment, but it is neither hot nor cold and so smooth the touch that it might as well not exist.

Up close, its surface is so completely without blemish that it is difficult to make out the corners. The seeming perfection of this blisteringly white architectural anomaly offends me so greatly that I release the stupid mockery and focus all of my power upon it, directing waves of force inward upon it from all directions. There is a scream and then protracted groaning from the inside, but no effect upon the edifice itself.

“Perhaps you should consider attacking the root of the problem,” a voice says, in the true tongue.

I glance around in surprise. I felt no other mind approaching, and neither saw nor heard nor felt any other presence in the room. And yet, there she is… an elf, like myself. Naked while I am clad, but otherwise very much like myself. Not just of my people, but as like myself as my left hand is like my right. As like myself as my mother is like my great…

“That is not your memory,” the interloper says, and she holds up a hand. A thought is ripped from my head.

“Who are you?” I ask, filling my voice and my mind with venom that should wither her where she stands. She is unfazed.

“I am Delia Daella d’Wyr,” she says. “Daughter of Daella Degra, daughter of Degra Daura, daughter of Daura Duala, daughter of Duala Deneira, daughter of Deneira Deshalla, daughter of Deshalla Duquesna, daughter of Duquesna Desiera, daughter of Desiera Docia, daughter of Docia Demara, daughter of Demara Della, daughter of Della Dolora, daughter of Dolora Delissa, daughter of Delissa Deliza, daughter of Deliza Dasera, daughter of Dasera Dasera, daughter of Dasera Decatia, daughter of Decatia Delia, daughter of Delia Deshara, daughter of Deshara Denala, daughter of Denala d’Wyr.”

“You are not,” I tell her. The lineage I was taught to recite may be a lie, but I know that I am Delia Daella d’Wyr.

“Then I am Dee,” she replies.

I give her a smile, very faint and very cold, and twist the woman-thing’s insides. It falls to its knees.

“This was looking for you,” I tell her.

“When I find her, I fear I will have much to apologize for,” Dee tells me.

“You spend a great deal of time apologizing, don’t you?” I say, and I know as I say it that it is true. The knowledge is there inside my mind. “You have been apologizing your entire life. Have you gained anything by it?”

“Humility,” she says. “Perhaps if you had gained a similar benefit, you would consider what I said.”

“What did you say?” I ask.

“Attack the root of the problem,” she says. “You do not bring down a pillar from the top.”

A memory floats into my mind: workers clearing out stalagmites by disintegrating the base. I move my attention down the sides of the pillar, scowling as my mind fails to find purchase. Then I reach the point where it joins the floor, and with the slightest of touches, the entire thing vanishes from sight.

In its place are a few smudged lines of chalk and a scrawny wreck of a child, lacking both the graceful beauty of elves and the exaggerated physique of other races.

Dee turns her head towards the toady little thing. I feel a pressure like a vise upon my head and it turns too.

“Run,” we say, in the ugly, guttural language of the humans.

The thing grabs the hand of its supposed mother and drags it for the door, knocking it off its hinges before disappearing. The flood of light into the room stabs my brain. Closing my eyes, I latch onto the door and jam it back into place.

“Better,” I say.

“You and I have things to discuss,” Dee says.

“I do not think so,” I tell her.

I do not understand what has been happening in this room, and that annoys me. I do not remember most of my life, and that annoys me more. Somebody is keeping things from me, and I know instinctively, intuitively that this doppelganger before me has everything to do with it.

“I do,” Dee said. “First of all, you are wearing something that does not belong to you.”

I clutch my cloak around me to protect my robes.

“These do belong to me,” I say. “I am… I am an initiated priestess.”

“A priestess of whom?”

“The forsaken one.”

“What is her name?” she asks.

“The name is… hidden from me,” I say. I glare at her. “But of course, you know that. You are the one who has hidden it.”

“Then I give it to you,” Dee said, and I feel it coming into my mind. Arakhis “Say it,” she says. “Say the name.”

“It does not suit me to,” I say, and this is the truth. I am not inclined to say the name of the goddess. I am very strongly disinclined. In fact, I cannot imagine myself saying it, but this is not any of her business.

“You cannot ,” she says.

I grow tired of her taunting and reach out with my mind to slap her away. As with the pillar, I encounter nothing.

“You cannot affect me,” Dee says, a gloating note in her voice. “You cannot touch me with that power.”

“If I cannot touch you, it is because you are not real,” I say. “You are not real. You do not exist. You are nothing.”

Dee strides towards me. She reaches out for me with her hand, and I stand unmoving in its path. My mind stretches outward and finds nothing. It is all an illusion, I am sure. That surety increases as her outstretched fingers pass through my face without resistance and into my head.

“To quote a very good friend of mine,” she says, her hand digging ineffectually in the space occupied by my brain, “I think that you are mistaken.”

The world goes white. There is a sensation of falling, and then I am standing in a twisting corridor full of doors. The doors are made of adamantine crystal and covered in heavy chains and locks.

“Welcome to my mind,” Dee’s voice says, echoing all around me.

Mine,” I growl, understanding what she has done.

“Perhaps,” Dee says, and her voice is now localized behind me. I turn around to face her. She seems more substantial now. Apart from that, her chest is fuller, her hips wider, and her hair has more body and lift. “If you can keep it. After all, they do say that possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

I lash out with a forceful strike from my mind, thinking that my power may now find purchase. The corridor ripples and shimmers in the wake of the bolt. Dee raises her hand and, with a grunt of effort, turns it back on me. I fly backwards, crashing against a locked door at a bend in the corridor.

“Surprised?” Dee asks.

“I was unprepared,” I say. “I did not expect a pale imitation to be similarly empowered.”

“Pale?” Dee asks, the corner of her lip twitching upwards. “I believe I am being insulted.”

“The choice was deliberate,” I say, lashing out with another assault.

I remember how my last attack deformed the environment. Instead of simply pushing with the power of my mind, I shape my thoughts into a hail of daggers. She turns sideways, becoming a paper-thin jagged line which slips between the blades.

“You learn quickly,” I say. “But you are in my domain.”

I will a contraction, causing a section of the floor and ceiling to slam together around her. She rolls forward, then jumps backwards as another segment of the corridor crashes together like a set of teeth.

“Jump and twist however you will, sooner or later you will regret invading my mind,” I tell her.

“You think this is your mind?” she asks.

“I know it is,” I say, making the floor disappear beneath her. She catches her fingertips on the edge and hauls herself up an instant before I can replace it.

“If this is your mind, then pick a door and open it,” she says. “You should be able to.”

She is right, to a certain extent. I should be able to access the memories behind all of the doors. But who is she to dictate actions to me? Perhaps she is trying to trick me into opening them. Perhaps I locked down my own memories, precisely to prevent her from entering them.

Once she is dealt with, it should be no effort at all to open them all, at which point I will doubtlessly remember how this strange circumstance came to be.

“You can’t, can you?” she says. I see the look of triumph on her face and I know that I am right.

“You will not fool me so easily,” I say. “I know what you want.”

I reach out and grab her with black coiling snakes and then I wrench her away from the halls of my memories, into the great gray space of dreams. An island of rock forms beneath us. This will be our battleground. This is the place where I will strike down the foul fetch and destroy her utterly. My hand reaches out into the ether as my mind molds it into an appropriate weapon. My fingers close around the shaft and I give it a twirl. So familiar, the feeling… so comforting. It’s like a part of me.

“A pitchfork,” Dee says. “This strikes you as an appropriate weapon for a priestess of the forsaken one?”

“Maybe it does,” I say. “The question is, how does it strike you?”

She arms herself as I go into an attack routine, forming a glowing black staff with eight sides to intercept a sweeping strike. There is no more talk, no sound but the clatter of staff against shaft as we twist and parry.

“The advantage is mine,” I say as I press the offense.

“I wrestle with myself every day,” she says, not noticing that I have backed her up against the edge of our floating island. “Fighting you barely qualifies as exercise.”

The contemptuous tone in her voice fuels my rage. Holding the shaft of my body with both hands, I make an almighty shove against her blocking staff and she stumbles backwards, one foot seeking solid ground in the yawning void. I cry out in elation as her other foot loses purchase… but then the whole island rotates, swinging around so that it is beneath her feet and I am the one standing on air.

Imagine Dee’s surprise when she realizes that I remain standing on air.

“My dream,” I tell her. “My rules.”

While she’s stunned, I swing myself at her head and knock her to the ground, then line up my tines for a deadly thrust. She rolls to the side. Four pairs of rocky arms burst out of the ground and grab me as she retreats. I turn them to ice and then shatter them with a shout, my voice funneling them into a flesh-stripping storm of razor-sharp shards which goes spinning at Dee.

A blast of fire from her hands sizzles the ice-blades away into nothing, but the swirling maelstrom which drove them suffocates the fire before it reaches me. She links her thumbs together and presses her wrists to each other, then her hands detach themselves and fall off, growing as they fall. The fingers become long legs and the thumbs become pinching mandibles, dripping venom. It grows and grows, becoming a spider the size of two oxen standing shoulder to shoulder.

Oxen?” Dee says. “I don’t even know what an oxen is, you ridiculous fraud. Where under earth did that comparison come from?”

“From me,” I say. I grow to an enormous size, impale the still-growing arachnid and then fling it over my shoulder.

Dee and the battlefield grow to match my size, or else she shrinks me. It is all relative. Her hands have reappeared.

“Whatever you are, it seems that we are evenly matched,” I say. “There is nothing to be gained from this struggle. I suggest you surrender.”

“Why should I surrender if we are evenly matched?” Dee asks.

“You are the aggressor,” I say. “I am defending the sovereign territory of myself. If we fight to a standstill, I remain in possession of myself… and that, as you say, is nine-tenths of the law.”

“We may be evenly matched,” Dee said. “But I have something which you do not.”

“What, do you imagine, is that?” I ask.

She smiles.

“Friends,” she says, and she opens her mouth. A stream of green and black bile issues forth from it, something between liquid and gas. It coalesces and then expands outward into the shape and form of a girl… the same dark-haired thing that was hiding inside the pillar.

There is something familiar about her, in a way that goes beyond my locked memories. I have an intimate association with her, I’m sure. That thought only heightens the feeling of disgust the sight of her instills in me. I cannot help but wonder how she ever seemed suitable for me.

“Dee?” she asks, blinking stupidly at me. “What… where are we?”

“Not Dee,” I say, and I knock her to the ground with a bolt of force.

“I’m sorry, Mackenzie,” Dee says, helping her up. “I’m so sorry. You are not going to survive this encounter. If it’s any consolation, you are not actually yourself.”

“What?” Mackenzie says.

“I can make no sense of her ranting, myself,” I say.

“Hey, that’s my pitchfork!” Mackenzie says, and she reaches out for me.

“Never!” I scream and I shoot three streams of fire from my tines at her. The fire washes over her without harming her, and the faint red haze around her intensifies.

“Yeah, that’s mine! I’ve been looking for it!” she says.

“Take it from her, Mackenzie,” Dee urges.

“Try,” I say, and with a wave of my hand I send Mackenzie flying far into the abyss beyond the edge of the island, sailing far out of sight. I watch her disappear like a distant twinkling star and then turn to my imitator. “What did you expect that to accomplish, exactly?” I ask. “What did you hope she would do? She lacks our power… my power.”

“That she does,” Dee says, squaring off with me once more. “But there is more than one power of the mind, and there is one which Mackenzie Jo Blaise possesses in far greater abundance than you or I.”

“And what is that?” I ask.

“Imagination,” Dee says.

There is a roar like a great beast, and I turn to see Dee’s “friend” hurtling across space astride a two-wheeled contraption, with an armored shell over her head. I throw myself to the side as she races past, but she yanks on the thing’s horns and turns it around in a wide skidding semicircle, then bears down upon me with a lance of bright flame spouting from her gauntlet.

Recovering quickly, I send a tremor through the ground, causing it to buck and heave. Her front wheel hits a rock and the odd vehicle upends itself, catapulting her into the air. She flips over in the air with a feat of acrobatics I know to be beyond her, and lands atop her vehicle, which I know was not upright, much less speeding towards me.

“You cannot do that!” I protest.

“In your dreams,” Mackenzie says, her voice magnified and gravelly. A gout of flame from her gauntlet washes over me, igniting my cloak and fine robes. In desperation, I dispel them… then catch Mackenzie and her imaginary mount up in my mind and do the same to them.

“Be gone, figment!” I cry. “These are mere diversions, ‘Dee’… you are trying to wear me down.”

“In point of fact, I was,” Dee says. “It was my hope that as a tiny fragment, you would exhaust yourself and, being as you are nothing more than a bit of energy, you would then cease to exist. Unfortunately, it seems that so long as we remain bound together, we are drawing from the same pool. You will not expire from energy depletion until I do.”

“You speak nonsense!”

“I speak the truth,” she says. “When you said that I was nothing, I told you that you were mistaken. Now let me tell you just how mistaken you were. It is you who are nothing. You are not a priestess. You are not an elf. You are not even a demon, merely the echo of a remnant of a fragment of one. You only gained the ability to sustain your existence by threading mycelia into my aura and leaching from me.”

“Lies!” I scream and I pump out energies in all directions, but the air shimmers all around me and buckles inward, reflecting my attack back. Caught completely off-guard, I feel the full brunt of my own fury and fall to my knees.

It burns like love, but I am far from finished. I look up at Dee with a look of pure defiance.

“Prove me wrong,” she says, with an infuriating calmness.

“I’ll prove you wrong when only I remain,” I say, launching myself into the air while converting the ground to a field of spikes with three barbs. Dee’s screams as her sham feet and legs are pierced in so many places is like the sweetest milk, but I feel an echo of her pain.

That just means she felt my pain earlier.

“Do not!” Dee shouts, and her voice turns my forest of thorns into dust.

“You thought I would go easy on you because you have stolen my face?” I ask, causing the sky to rain tri-pointed blades.

“Do not dare to compare your sick torments to the taste of milk!” Dee screams, levitating herself while catching my deadly rain with a swirling shield of blackness. “And why would a priestess of the true elves think of a forest?” she asks. I feel her mind reaching out, and I clamp down my power as a shield over my dream-body and my mind.

Neither are her target. My fine robes… or the figments of them which I carried with me… are reformed around her. She has now not only stolen my face but the robes of my office.

“You dare?” I say, lashing out at her with the full force and fury of my unbridled power.

I dare!” she shrieks, her own attack punching through mine and striking me with force I could not have imagined. “These robes are not yours,” she says, hammering me again with mental force as she stalks across the air towards me. Such pain. “This body is not yours.” She becomes a blur and she strikes me fist after fist after fist, reciting her hateful rhetoric as she does. “This… mind… is… not… yours.”

Yes it is!” I cry. I explode outward, throwing her away, and then reform. I try to clothe my new body appropriately, but find the design of the robes is now denied to me as well. “Whatever trickery you perpetrate, fiend, I am the priestess and you are the remnant.”

“Prove it!” she says. “Say the name of the goddess, if you are not afraid.”

“I am not afraid!” I say. I swing an arm towards her, extending it whip-like. It wraps around her arms and body, and the fist becomes a serpent’s head which sinks its fangs into her neck. “But neither am I under any obligation to you, trickster.

“If… if you were a priestess, you would be under an obligation to her,” Dee grunts. Her skin is turning pale. The serpent squeezes and she gasps.

“Do not presume to lecture me, false one,” I say, flying in close to breathe the words into her ears.

“A priestess would thank her for… for victory,” Dee whispers weakly as the life drains out of her. Throughout the distant corridors of my mind, I can hear locks clicking open and chains falling away. I’m doing it. I’m beating her. Memories come tumbling back to me. I remember my mother. I know who those disgusting creatures in the dark room were, though I can’t understand why I was associating with them. I know how to clad myself properly. I know the shape of the family chapel. I bring it into existence around us.

I slow the pumping of the poison into her veins and relax the squeezing of the snake. If this pretender wants to see a priestess honor, it will be the last thing that she sees before she lapses into nothingness.

“I will show you,” I tell her. “You will see now the glory and the power of an initiated priestess of Arakhis!”

Oh, the pain… the pain… the pain… THE PAIN.

Nothing.

White silence.

Coolness on my cheek. A crack of light falling across my face. A groan and then a crash as a precariously-placed door tumbles down on me.

My name is Delia Daella d’Wyr. I have just awoken on the floor of a student laboratory on the first floor of Harlowe Hall. My head feels as though it has hosted one of the humans’ mock combat games inside it. My mouth tastes of copper.

I have just learned an invaluable lesson about my personal limits, and for that I must thank my goddess at the first opportunity. Before that, though, I must report the damage inflicted to the door, and before that, I must find my friends and render proof to them that I am no more than myself.

I fear that some apologies are in order.


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7 Responses to “316: Nine-Tenths Of The Law”

  1. pedestrian says:

    These pages have been one of the most descriptive accounts of a mystical battle I have ever read.

    Current score: 0
  2. MackSffrs says:

    Brilliant battle, not so brilliant Amaranth… again.
    Maybe she can’t deal with panic? That’s got to be it.

    Current score: 2
    • Konso says:

      Keep in mind that they are in a pitch dark room, and Amaranth can’t see in the dark. She’s blind and the first thing that possessed Dee does is grab her by the throat and twist her insides with telekinesis. She was unconscious before she had any idea what had happened.

      Current score: 6
  3. MadnessMaiden says:

    It was cool seeing Dee/the demon’s perspective. Dee sounded like Two’s Diary of a Golem girl entries at the end there.

    Current score: 0
  4. Anthony says:

    The power of imagination! That scene has to be the most awesome thing in the entire archive.

    Current score: 1
  5. Grant says:

    “I fear that some apologies are in order.”

    Hehe.

    Current score: 1
  6. Jechtael says:

    “…burns like love.” Well, that pretty much confirms why Amaranth’s presence suppressed it.

    Current score: 1