Categories > Movies > Labyrinth > Labyrinth of Chaos


by shadowlurker13 0 reviews

destination achived, deliberately limited knowledge, dubious plotting

Category: Labyrinth - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Crossover,Fantasy - Published: 2017-05-25 - 5921 words - Complete

Chapter 4 - Warped

Safe at last in the midst of a drab nowhere after their arduous travails through Shadow, Mandor was readying the trump that was about to lead Sarah through to his private residence near the Courts of Chaos when he suddenly remembered: the atmosphere. He had nearly forgotten that the outside Chaosian air would be deadly toxic to a human. Natives simply switched up into their stronger forms to be out-of-doors; some of the compounds would even sicken them in their humanoid bodies if they were out in it for too long of a period of time. But Sarah only had to be out in it for a moment… He covered the card, severing the contact.

“What is it now?” Sarah asked, both fatigued and growing anxious.

“Nothing major; just a slight annoyance,” he reassured her. Summoning a Logrus portal, he retrieved a long, thin white cloth; it looked like it was soaked in water; he wrung out the excess. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to bind your eyes. Where we are about to go, the outside air could easily damage your more delicate membranes but we shouldn’t be outside for more than a few seconds. All right?”

Sarah laughed a little humorlessly, shaking her head. “Whatever has to happen here.”

Mandor carefully tied the wet material over her eyes, making certain there were no gaps, and activated the trump again. He put his left arm about her shoulders to guide her.

“Now, I need you to prepare to take a deep breath and hold it while pinching your nose closed tightly, mouth firmly sealed shut, and be ready to walk forward on the count of three. One…two, inhale… and three!”

Sarah was quickly marched across what sounded like a short gravel walkway and hurried through what she presumed was the heavy door she had seen because it slammed shut behind them with an echoing thud.


Sarah let go of her nose and immediately coughed a little; even with such precautions her lungs and sinuses still stung slightly. She heard Mandor sigh.

“Home, sweet home,” he noted dryly. Sarah had gone to remove the material from her eyes but he stayed her hand. “Not yet. Somehow I don’t think you’re quite up to seeing the rest of the house. I have a set of specially-prepared rooms for your use if you would simply follow me,” he took her by the hand and led her down the hall. Sarah mentally rolled her eyes. Nothing could possibly faze her anymore; she felt certain this had to be overkill.

She was, of course, dead wrong. The trump with the door was in fact a sham image that concealed an unmarked wall of plain rock - another illusion - which led into Mandorways proper, and the slam she had heard had been artificially produced by a trick using a crystal to trap and later repeat a specific sound. The receiving room was actually at the bottom of an alien ocean but the indoor pressure was magically normalized; a large window showed ugly luminescent fish swimming by and periodically eating each other. A couple of floating end tables lazily drifted about the stuffed black chairs. Sarah had just unknowingly walked through a wall of slow fire to enter the hallway. It was a time-honored Chaosian tradition to drastically separate the rooms of one’s house by at least a couple miles, if not nearby shadows, both for aesthetic and protective reasons, and to move between them in a manner similar to quantum tunneling through a series of professionally patched-together ‘Ways’ (hence the common name for the high-ranking demesnes.) Even if the proverbial divided house cannot stand, the literally divided house can more easily withstand outside attack.

But Sarah didn’t need to comprehend this just yet, Mandor mused as he led her through rooms in no less than four successive shadows, each without any obvious visible entrance or exit points - certain sections of the walls alone sufficed, seeming to dissolve as they passed through; if Order rendered shadow-walking nearly impossible, Chaos made use of the fact that it was far too easy here.

Unseeing, the place seemed normally cohesive to Sarah, however, and she was working hard to remember the layout as they went: foyer, dark hall, a large bright room with a tile floor (their steps echoed), a straight staircase going up, a smaller darker room (carpeted), another wider hallway (this one bright on the right side - probably windows), and a turn to the left, stopping. She heard a heavy wooden door open and was led inside; it closed behind them.

Mandor had given painfully specific instructions to his regular Shadowmaster before he left that the walls of the library were to be protectively sealed to the best of the man’s ability; it simply wouldn’t do to have his human charge accidentally pass through the wrong wall into a physically hostile shadow or, to borrow the Shadow Earth slang, ‘take a Wiley Coyote dive’. One of the guest apartments had also been reattached here as a conveniently close living quarters, complete with a visible doorway which Sarah could easily use without having to understand the whole process.

“Here we are, then,” he announced, carefully untying the bandage from about her eyes; Sarah couldn’t believe just how conscientious he was being - he didn’t yank a single strand of hair. She opened her eyes and gasped: they were standing in the entrance of an immense open two-story oval room that was easily five times the size of her high school gymnasium. Every last inch of wall space was lined with bookshelves stuffed full of every last tome not under the sun, with a spacious wraparound walkway on the second level. There were sofas and a large professional-looking desk closer to this end, and a long study table and chairs near the other with smaller furniture scattered throughout. A large lit fireplace was set in the right wall. With the exception of some slight gilding here and there, she was surprised to see the colors in here were soft and neutral. The whole place looked warm, bright, inviting.

“Welcome to Mandorways, or, rather, my library to be a bit more precise,” he invited her in with the universal sweeping arm gesture of ‘after you’.

Sarah paused. “You’re sure I can handle being in here?” she asked in mock-dire seriousness with a theatrical frown.

“Go on, explore, Earth-child; it is safe for you in here,” Mandor replied with a slightly amused smirk. “Oh, I nearly forgot! Look up.”

As she did so, he said a single word of Thari and the ceiling went black and starry with a crescent moon, but these heavenly bodies were stationary, not the riot of color and movement that was probably happening outside. Still, she’d only seen this many stars once farther upstate, away from all the city lights. Was that the Milky Way over there?

“I thought it might be comforting for you to be able to see a facsimile of the sky of your home shadow and to mark your days by it. Apparently human circadian rhythm is rather inflexible and if it is not maintained - even artificially - the body quickly weakens. Our own reckoning of time varies somewhat, along with nearly everything else here.”

“It’s beautiful,” Sarah said, shaking her head in wonder, beginning to slowly wander the ground floor, checking everything out.

What Mandor wasn’t about to tell her was that the entire appearance of the room was just as finely-crafted an illusion, designed to help her transition into life in the Courts. Mimicking Pattern-style order this close to the true Logrus was almost blasphemous but it wasn’t to be for long. Lessons in the practical applications of the sciences in this world were to be taught alongside the more necessary arcane topics. With knowledge would come confidence and, following confidence, ease. As her studies progressed, he planned to slowly revert her current chambers back to their natural condition and, in time, give her more freedom of the house. But for right now, she desperately needed to mentally cling to forms that she understood as normal after such an ordeal; it was a reasonable concession, and one that would further engender her trust in him.

“I speak truthfully when I tell you that the sight of that ceiling alone would be enough to paralyze half of Chaos,” he remarked, pacing into the room with his hands clasped behind his back, glancing up momentarily. “Lack of manpower or fighting skill didn’t lose the Patternfall War; widespread agoraphobia did. Many within the Courts had never set foot out-of-doors once in their lifetimes.”

Sarah was shocked. “Never? But why? Oh, it’s the atmosphere, isn’t it?” she answered herself.

“Not as much as you’d think, actually; it’s perfectly safe for us to be outside in our power forms - you’ve seen two of mine - but it has more to do with the fluctuating nature of Chaos itself. The world outside the shadows we directly control indoors can be hard to predict.”

Sarah had just about had it with Mandor’s cryptic speech. “Okay, I don’t know if you’re doing this on purpose or what, but you do realize that you’re not really explaining half of the stuff you’re talking about so I can understand it, right?”

Mandor gave a tired, jaded little smirk.

“Then let me explain your situation as it currently stands. Until further notice you are residing on a physically hostile alien planet; if you so much as open a window in the wrong room you could die. You are here on my own hospitality and expense and I will do my best to properly care for you as long as you are my charge. I will arrange for Lord Suhuy Swayvil to give you private tutoring in the Logrus as it fits into his schedule and he, not I, will determine when you are capable enough to safely return to Shadow Earth. You will also be instructed in other basic topics pertaining to our world, namely history, science, social custom and conversational Thari. In fact, I will insist on your speaking it exclusively in my house,” he said, getting out one of his spheres and walking over to the desk. “I can count on one hand the number of people here who can speak your native tongue at all, let alone fluently, without arcane assistance, and if you are to have future dealings with Chaos it will be imperative that you have a working knowledge of our own language.” He clicked the sphere on, set it on a small holding pedestal and covered it with a bell-jar. “Starting now. I know you are curious but don’t tamper with this,” he added offhandedly, digging a set of keys out of one of his pockets and unlocking the shallow front drawer of the desk.

It took Sarah a second to realize that those were not the actual words he had spoken, but that she had understood them all the same and it suddenly dawned on her that it was his own translation spell in reverse! She went to speak and found the Thari words coming as easily as if she had spoken this amazing language her entire life.

“So is this just until I learn properly?” she asked slowly, careful to get the pronunciation right. Mandor looked up from rummaging around and smiled, seeing that his device worked well, and nodded.

“It is for the time being. Full immersion will greatly aid your speed in learning but I do intend to turn it off in a few weeks’ time, so pay close attention to the words you speak and hear.” He located his quarry and locked the desk back up. “Come over here.”

Sarah crossed the room to join him and he presented her with a single trump, face down.

“You once flattered me by saying you would have a trump of me when you barely knew me at all. I am repaying that trust. Take it, it’s yours.”

Sarah carefully took it by the edges, feeling the familiar coolness, and flipped it over. Pictured against a deep-blue curtain was the now-familiar form of a tall, pale, lithe man with shoulder-length white hair, wearing his eternal black-and-white, seated in a high-backed black-painted chair with bat-type wings carved into the top, lounging casually with one leg resting on his knee. His blue gaze was at once calculating but cool and in his right hand were four of his metal orbs, balanced like juggling spheres. He looked unusually serious - it was obviously a formal portrait. The picture wavered and she suddenly saw him standing in front of his desk in miniature and she quickly looked up from it; he covered the trump with his hand, breaking the connection, meeting her eyes.

“I am only giving this to you now because you can already use it, but Lord Suhuy will give you more detailed instructions on their full use and capabilities. This is not a toy to be used casually; only contact me in this manner if it is truly necessary, but then and welcome. You understand the activation process but to sever the link cover the card with your right hand as I have done,” he said, removing his hand; she quickly turned the trump face down again.

Sarah knew she should thank him but the words just didn’t begin to cover everything he was doing for her. Mandor seemed to simply intuit her gratitude and his expression turned oddly to self-satisfaction again but she wasn’t given the time to riddle it out.

“Why don’t you go look at your apartments and make sure I didn’t neglect anything,” he looked past her toward the door at the far end of the room; it was yet another heavy wooden affair with a rounded top, placed at the termination of a burgundy-carpeted staircase on a landing perfectly between the ground and the edged second floor, with two other staircases connecting them to the library above. With slight trepidation, Sarah mounted the stairs.

If this is another recreation of my room I’m gonna-

Mandor held his breath as she opened the fake door herself and stepped through… and nothing untoward happened. He exhaled. It worked.

Sarah was a little surprised to find that it wasn’t just a bedroom but rather a small but well-appointed one-bedroom apartment sans kitchenette. She smirked as she surveyed the décor: she had to give him credit - it wasn’t just a copy of her room but it certainly showed the borrowed influence. The sofa along the left wall bore a suspicious similarity to the overstuffed chair that she kept next to her window.

He couldn’t have helped but see it, really, she noted, thinking back. There was an oval wooden coffee table with two large tomes stacked on it. Upon closer inspection, they proved to be the books she had purchased in Lizard Land, translated as promised, albeit with a compromise: the history book was in English but the literature compendium was in Thari. Mounted above the sofa were three framed-in-glass posters, each painted in a different style with Thari titles, presumably from theatrical performances of some kind. Further in was a large desk that looked like it could double as a worktable or even tilt like an artist’s easel. The room was comfortably bright but there was no visible light source. The right wall facing the sofa sported a large rectangular abstract painting that was full of optical illusions, a mind toy that could potentially mesmerize her for hours, working out its intricacies. An open doorway in the middle of the back wall led to the bedroom and bathroom.

No fairytale-princess four-poster-canopied bed in here. A modern-looking full bed with a botanical-print comforter that reminded her of her old wallpaper dominated the room; the walls were painted a light natural green to match. There was a simple vanity - already stocked, she found upon opening the drawers - but it was an elegant simplicity. There were absolutely no childish elements in here. This was very decidedly a young woman’s quarters. A quick look in the closet revealed it was full of a wide array of clothing - both skirt and pants outfits - suited to a variety of occasions. A small selection of shoes lined the inner floor and a small dresser on the left inside revealed practical undergarments and socks. Nearly all of it was black-and-white, but there were a couple pieces near the back of the closet in one other shade - a striking deep blue. In spite of the limited color palate, there was plenty in here that she would thoroughly enjoy wearing, she smiled to herself.

The bathroom was completely modern even if it was a bit on the small side (there was only a square shower stall) but everything looked serviceable and the cabinets were completely stocked with everything she could possibly ever conceivably need, including a potable water carafe and glass. It was a little like being in a posh hotel.

Upon coming back into the main room, she saw her host standing in the outer doorway; he made the show of lightly knocking on the opened wooden door.

“May I come in for a moment?”

Sarah shrugged. “Of course; this is your house.”

“Be that as it may, I will not enter in here without your express permission; I want you to think of these rooms as your own,” he stated, walking in. “Is everything to your satisfaction? Did I omit anything necessary?”

She shook her head no, smiling. “Everything’s just perfect.” Her eyes were almost involuntarily drawn to the painting again and he followed her gaze with a nodding smile of his own.

“I thought you might like this. It’s always been one of my favorites. The artist was a friend of mine.” He noted her lack of reaction. “Just don’t look at it for too long; it has a way of sucking in the viewer.”

Sarah suddenly tore her eyes away. “No kidding,” she laughed, absently running a hand through her hair and stifling a yawn. Mandor took one step closer, his expression suddenly earnest.

“Was there anything else you might need before I leave you to retire? I will be off to the Ways of Suhuy presently to discuss your situation with him and will probably not return until your morning.”

“You’re going there at this time of night?!” Sarah asked incredulously. And then she belatedly remembered. “It’s not really night-time here, is it?”

“One of them perhaps; we largely keep our own hours. I know it isn’t an explanation but suffice to say that things run differently here and you will learn of it soon enough. I’ll repeat my question: did you need anything else before I leave?”

“Yeah, actually, come to think of it. How do you turn on and off the lights? Or are they just on all the time?”

“Clap your hands.”

Sarah balked. “You’re joking. These are ‘Clap On’ lights?”

Mandor clapped twice and they were immediately plunged into darkness; it appeared to work for the library as well. Sarah clapped once tentatively and it all flared back into existence. He looked as amused as she looked dumbfounded.

“Anything else?”

Sarah shook her head. “I guess not.”

“Then I will bid you goodnight,” he bowed, “try and get some sleep. You should have an eventful day ahead of you if I am successful, but in any event I will see you tomorrow at breakfast in the library. Until later, then.” He turned to go and was nearly out the door when he suddenly stopped, considered something, thought better of it, then turned back to her anyway. “Don’t stand in this doorway for too long; it could tire you out.”

Sarah raised one eyebrow. “Why?” she asked guardedly.

His response was an odd little smile. “Because I said so. Goodnight, Sarah.”

Before she could say another word he shut the door after him. The silence was almost deafening but after a moment Sarah practically sagged in relief at being left alone. Then a very curious thought occurred to her: she was actually relieved that Mandor wasn’t there but she had absolutely no idea why, and she puzzled away at the conundrum to no avail as she readied herself for bed.

She wouldn’t fully understand the magnitude of that feeling for a long, long time.

Traversing numerous corridors, passing briefly through dozens of shadow worlds, Mandor Sawall swiftly made his way down the familiar route to one of his uncle’s favorite private residences (the blood relation was on his father’s side, once removed). Lord Suhuy Swayvil was one of the most quietly influential men in Chaos, being the Keeper of the Logrus and tutor to over three-quarters of its current initiates. Incomprehensibly old, Suhuy was still very able-bodied and mentally sharp as ever, and his occult powers had not diminished with age. It was a widely-held private opinion that when the man finally died he would simply crumble to dust and be blown away over the Rim of the Abyss of Chaos, seeing as he did not seem to suffer the indignities of any gradual decline.

At last Mandor achieved the correct shadow; from his vantage point atop a hill he could see the dark stone castle at the peak of a floating island of a mountain, suspended above an ornamental petrified forest in its eternal, gorgeously opalescent blaze. The sky directly overhead was blank white but there was an edge of deep blue creeping in at one horizon. Producing two spheres, he set them in opposing orbits and levitated up in a slower, controlled ascent like a diagonal elevator. Soon he was at the immense front portcullis (which, rather than being an illusion, was actually functional; Suhuy often favored this residence because it was rather difficult for unwanted visitors to gain entrance.) As he strode forward, a moaning howl went up from the stone gargoyle perched on top, announcing his presence. A moment later Suhuy was raising the gate. Even at this late hour he was still in his power form: a horned, half-scaled gray demon with fangs.

“Mandor!” he exclaimed upon seeing him, rushing forward to greet his nephew. “I did not expect to see you for a least another week! Please, come in,” he ushered him into his Ways. They passed down a dark corridor, through two brief completely incongruous shadows - glowing green ghostlike wisps immediately followed by a field of flowing lava. “How went your travails in the static worlds?”

“Mind-numbingly dull at points; it’s good to be back. I’ve no idea how Dworkin Barimen could stand living there long enough to found a civilization.”

“Well, he was technically insane during most of his residency.”

“That would certainly help.”

Both men laughed as they passed through a split-second of a blue snowstorm and came into a small torchlit room with two overstuffed chairs facing each other in front of a gothic stone fireplace. There was a bar in the corner and the walls were covered with heavy tapestries for insulation.

“Forgive my casual human-formed appearance, Uncle, but I’ve had a rather tiring day,” Mandor stated, falling into the chair to the left.

“I can only imagine it must be so if you got here this quickly. Let me get you a drink. Ale? Wine? Something stronger?”


Suhuy poured two glasses of red and joined him, handing Mandor his glass before sitting in the chair opposite. The Keeper had known this man for most of his life, first as a family member and later as a Logrus pupil, long enough to know that he would tell what he would in his own time, that even this casual stance was an amazingly rehearsed act to attempt to put him at his ease; it would’ve taken an elongated sorcerous duel against an equal - a full day of fighting nonstop - to actually tire him at his current age. Mandor wasn’t maliciously deceptive… well, often anyway. This was simply his nature. It was almost entertaining watching him keep up the act. After about a minute’s companionable silence, Suhuy spoke up.

“So, should I take it by your speedy return that you were successful in locating and recovering the initiate?”

“Yes, the process was rather straightforward, actually.”

“Is it someone with arcane training? Surely a novice could never have survived that trial.” To his surprise, Mandor gave an irritated sigh and got up, beginning to pace.

“It’s only an adolescent girl from Shadow Earth,” he said with an unusually honest note of dejection. He glanced over to see Suhuy, crestfallen. “I know you had high hopes upon receiving the initial oracle from the Logrus. I am sorry.”

“Another pawn,” Suhuy mulled, taking another swallow of his drink. “The House of Sawall already has its fair share by your accounts and Swayvil is simply crawling with them. We desperately need a knight, someone to further the cause of Chaos in the Order worlds, to tip the balance back toward us once more. You know as well as I what peril we sit under if this fails to happen. Already the Logrus’ power is beginning to wane out near the Dancing Mountains. If this continues unchecked, none of us will be above expendability.”

An odd possibility had been forming in the back of Mandor’s mind as the other man spoke and now he voiced it. “Would you settle for a rook?”

Suhuy’s bright-yellow cat’s-eyes met his. “Do elaborate.”

Mandor seated himself again, this time with more grace. “I know she is not the powerful sorcerer you had in mind to train but she has shown a little promise already.”

“She would have to do much more than that. What powers has she evinced?”

“She has managed to use the trumps without any training at all. Twice.”

Suhuy sighed. “You’ll have to come up with something better than that, my nephew. Such a feat would be impressive in Amber but in Chaos such magic is child’s play.

Mandor paused for effect. “She has accidentally shifted shadow with me in the car whilst driving here. On the Order-side of the divide. And apparently this is not the first time. Immediately after her initial trial she unintentionally transported an entire horde of shadow-creatures through a mirror to Shadow Earth. And she has a charged object - a piece of jewelry. The amber-colored glass jewel hasn’t stopped glowing since she crossed the divide.”

Suhuy’s expression lightened as he sat back in his chair, stroking his scaly chin thoughtfully with one black-clawed hand. “That is promising. How is she holding up? Is she still reasonably sane?”

“She seems physically stable but the whole affair has been very traumatic for her. I took the liberty of putting a light spell on her to keep her calm, rational and accepting of her situation so that she is not overly frightened of us or the Logrus. The library and her living quarters at Mandorways have been temporarily glamoured to mimic Order. Of course we will have to test her before going forward with any magical training but I do not wish her disturbed for at least several hours; she needed rest badly. I drove her almost nonstop through Shadow to get here. I believe she is in no current danger but her power is too volatile to leave uncontrolled for long.”

Suhuy frowned slightly. “I can only express the hope that you are more subtle this time, especially since she will be coming into her own power on your watch.” He did not have to mention the previous calamitous attempt to control Merlin to get him to accept the Throne; the wound to Mandor’s pride was all too fresh and his gaze had turned away from him to the fire reflexively.

“Have no fear, Uncle, I plan on keeping things well in hand by far more personal commitment. She has already begun to form an emotional bond of sorts and I am going to do everything I can in order to nurture it. Loyalty will not even be a matter of discussion.”

“She trusts you then?”

“Not perfectly, but there is more than enough time to engender that.” He suddenly glanced back. “Isn’t there?”

“Probably, but I wouldn’t count on it. Not anymore. And especially if we must hide this project from the King,” he added quietly, almost as if he feared his own walls would give them away. “His heart is in the right place but he will uphold our peace treaty with Amber at any cost, even to the point of weakening the Logrus if need be. He should never have finished his education away in Order; it set his interests too far from home.”

“As you state, secrecy must be of the upmost importance, at least until we know what she is capable of. None of my regular serving staff is even aware of her existence, let alone presence, and I intend to keep it this way. Only my Shadowmaster might have something to suspect but he has no concrete information and I paid him well. Speaking of payment, is double your regular rate for Logrus training acceptable? She needs to be tutored in basic matters pertaining to our world along with the courses in magic.”

“That will more than suffice,” Suhuy cracked a sly, sharp-toothed grin, “but I am taking your money strictly for show; you know I desire to do this, especially if it will give us any kind of an edge.”

“I had planned on returning her to Shadow Earth once her training is complete,” Mandor took another sip of wine.

“Excellent! We could use a stealth agent inhabiting a shadow within easy reach of Amber, and, considering in the time-differential, she could be useful to us for at least several centuries Chaos-reckoning.”

“Whatever did happen to our last man on Shadow Earth?”

“He was discovered and sent packing by Prince Julian of Amber with his tail between his legs, both figuratively and literally. A native would be much harder to track on home turf, especially given that Random’s agents are on the lookout for shape-shifters. Others have had limited success by abstaining from the practice but we are still getting routed far too often.”

Mandor shifted slightly, just a second’s fluidity. “Speaking of nuisances, was there anyone else privy to the discovery of the initiate here?”

“None at all; I have honorably conducted this affair with great secrecy. Why do you ask?”

“I was taunted and finally ambushed by a pride of mechanical manticora on the trip back to Chaos.”

Suhuy’s bright eyes widened. “Mechanical, you say?”

“I smashed one to gears and springs.”

“Did they say anything?”

“The automaton that addressed me was remarkably eloquent in conveying the sentiment against the inroads of Chaos felt by an Order initiate, but I more than half suspect the attack may have been of Chaosian origin now that I have had time to think on it; to my knowledge, most Amberites could care less about such technology and the assault showed considerable knowledge of my few defense weak points.”

Suhuy considered it seriously for a moment. “Are you still on amiable terms with her grace Fiona Barimen?”

Mandor gave a knowing lip-smile. “This is not a jilted lover’s vendetta, if that is what you are implying.”

“I am only trying to narrow it down to who might actually be able to so thoroughly anticipate you, but still you should be careful in your dealings with the princess regardless of whatever your feelings might be toward her. She isn’t called the Witch of Amber for nothing.”

“If it were Fi, she wouldn’t have sent a bucket of bolts to do a sorceress’ job. And she would’ve made damn certain I knew it was her,” Mandor stated with a note of jaded amusement. It was followed by a distant look and a very brief private smile that only someone of Suhuy’s training would catch. Despite their massively insoluble political differences, Mandor of the Courts and Fiona of Amber did actually seem to make a remarkably compatible pair; they understood each other in a way no one else did. This, too, was being kept secret for reasons of state; such actions could easily be misconstrued as treasonous for either party. “I know the query was uncalled for but I’ve been trying for hours and I can’t think of a single soul…”

Suhuy nodded. “It isn’t often I see you stumped but I’m glad for your sake that you brought this to me. I will try to discreetly use my lines of influence to see if I can turn up something. In the meantime, did you need to return immediately or would you care to rest a few hours yourself before the real work begins?”

“That is most generous of you and I believe I will take you up on it. As long as I am on my way by greensky I can intercept her for breakfast. Would it suit you to come two turnings later or do you have other matters to attend to?”

“Fortunately, I have managed to clear a decent portion of my schedule to accommodate this, although I do have an appointment much later in the day.”

The two men got up and Suhuy led Mandor through the wall to the right of the bar; it suddenly vanished, revealing the rest of the room they had just occupied: a large bedroom with an intimate sitting area to be precise. Mandor smirked, nodding.

“I did not wish to pressure you into staying, but you see I was prepared for the contingency.”

“As long as your courtesy does not include trying to jar my subconscious into deducing my assailant - no visions tonight, Uncle. I need rest myself.”

Suhuy was surprised. “Merlin told you about that?” he marveled. “After all you put that boy through he still sees fit to confide in you occasionally?”

Mandor just shrugged. “Chosen family can be a stronger bond than blood relation.”

“That’s very true. At redsky tomorrow then. And the library, you said?”

“Yes, and remember your testing equipment.”

“Of course. Sleep well, Mandor.”

“And you, Uncle.”

The ancient demon-formed man stepped past the bar and vanished from what was now the center of the room. Mandor gave a small smile of satisfaction. Aside of the initial glitches, the plan was beginning to run rather smoothly. He thought of the human girl then - his hidden rook, and the possibilities she could provide Chaos - as he went through the motions of retiring. Of course, much would depend on the current physical condition of her brain, he mused, but if all was as he thought…

With a word he extinguished the lights. Through the thin-to-defunct walls came the distant sound of a large Chaos clock, striking the hour backwards.
(Incidental music: Timothy Lamb, aka Trash80, 'Excuses')
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