In her rooms, Meg stared into the low flames and embers, a forgotten glass of water in her hand. She was beyond frustration and mourned their efforts tonight despondently. The Thrall they were looking for had been disposed of, gone from this world like a lame horse that had been put down; she mentally digested this fact with no small amount of disgust.
But who had pulled his strings? It would be difficult for her to ask about any single Thrall, and it would conflict with her new guise as an arrogant Awakening Prince. It was her tool, her public tie to Byron that would enable them to be acquaintances, and she could not compromise it until she knew she could step out of those clothes and return to her normal life. Her normal life with Devlin.
Her mind spun its wheels. Were Thralls generally loyal to their masters, or did other Fae take advantage of them as well? She unsure of the etiquette concerning them, and neither Corwin nor Lucian had been able to offer much insight on it. She had noticed that, at times, they were considered public servants, ordered about by anyone at the Cup who deigned to make use of them, and at others, they were considered very personal property. Perhaps there was something here that could be of use to her, if only she could think through this maze! She had no patience for political intrigues, friend in danger or no.
She suddenly realized that something was slipping in her hand, and tightened her grip just enough to prevent its fall. Aware of the glass in her hand now, she took a sip expecting water, and coughed when she inhaled strong alcoholic fumes. Her glass of water had been replaced by yet more rum, and she hadn’t even noticed. She shook her head to clear away the dark mood that had settled on her, and glanced ruefully over at the two Fae in the corner of her rooms.
Corwin and Lucian stopped their conversation to look over at her, then gave each other disconcerted looks. Their discussion had turned to that odd feeling in the ether that they had detected all evening, that ever-present radio static that spiked occasionally to gum up the power that they had grown so accustomed to in their long centuries. Lucian narrowed his muddy green eyes in thought. “How d’ye feel, lass?”
“Brooding gives me a headache,” she said with a weak laugh. “But the alcohol helps. No wonder Jack Sparrow loved his rum so much.”
The two men exchanged a glance, then settled their elbows onto their knees, leaning towards her, as if getting ready for a very serious talk with a small child. “Now, Meg…”
Some spark flared inside her, impatience and temper mingled together into some terrible uncontrollable tantrum that she only barely managed to contain. “If you’re going to have a talk with me about my alcoholism over the past day…”
“Child, I sunk into wine when I lost her,” Corwin stumbled and could not bring himself to say the name of his beloved. “The good stock, at first, then I gradually sunk into cheap brandy and anything else I could get my hands on. We Fae do not have total immunity to drugs and alcohol; when we wish them to take us into oblivion, we can let it happen.”
“Aye, lass. Devlin, she is not lost to us yet,” Lucian said gravely.
“We don’t even know that! She could be…. For all we know — !” she choked, unable to voice those things. “I haven’t been..” Me? I haven’t been myself? I haven’t been able to manifest who I truly am? I haven’t been who I should be? What would she say if she were here? What would Tear say? Her mental facilities were in shambles. “I… I want to go home, Corey. For the night, so I can think.”
She held out one hand expectantly while she downed the rest of the sweet burning liquid with the other. Standing, the three of them vanished into the flickering silhouette of her chair.
She stood at the doorway to Devlin’s bedroom, hand resting on the doorway. Never before had she felt any reservations about bounding in and interrupting whatever Devlin was doing on her computer. Her room had always been full of light and warmth. Now, it sat cold and lifeless; her computer turned off, the windows shuttered, the fireplace dark.
Dragging her feet, Meg walked to the bed and gingerly sat on it, hating to disturb anything here. Her friend’s disappearance had turned the room into a sacred space for her, becoming all she had left of her friend. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of lilies and jasmine. Past the point of tears, her eyes were solemnly dry.
She laid down on her side, curling slightly, and warming a spot on the blankets, much like a cat would. Her tired eyes slid shut, the tension in her muscles released, and her mind sank into the sweet oblivion of sleep.
A canyon, a rift, a large strip of land completely torn out of the earth. That was all that was between her and the shining beacon on the other side. She knew that that light would warm her again, and she was so cold!
The Garnet Prince stood next to her, fervently searching for something, panicking.
There! Look across the gap! Why aren’t you looking? Turn around! All you have to do is turn!
Byron started weeping, clutching sadly at the gaping hole where his heart should have been.
Byron walked, carrying her on his back, her legs looped through his arms. “I will carry you,” he repeated in a self-assured litany.
No! Turn around! We’re walking the wrong way! The light is back that way!
Meg startled awake, and found herself sitting in Devlin’s bed with the comforter wrapped all about her as if she had built a nest. “Piggyback. PIGGYBACK!”
Lucian poked his head in, “Lass?”
She wrenched free of the ensnaring sheets and grabbed Lucian’s hand roughly on her way out the door. For a split second, she thought about just jumping clear over the banister and falling straight down into the foyer, but thought better of it just in time to round the corner and patter down the stairs and skid to a stop in the dining room against a carved column.
“Corey! I — what are you doing?”
Corwin was a disheveled mess with bloodshot eyes; she’d caught him in the middle of pouring himself a very tall glass of brandy. “Having breakfast, dear. I gave some thought to what you said last night, and decided that alcohol would soothe my mind, so I have been drinking steadily since you went to bed,” he replied determinedly.
“Not now, Corey,” she pleaded, “I need you to be strong right now!” She feared the worst, that he had sunken back into depression. Heat spiked in her as she suddenly grew angry at him, and at herself. What use was it feeling so helpless and despondent when it wasn’t getting you anywhere? Now was not the time!
“Child, listen to me. You were right,” he said very patiently, and gave her a very meaningful stare. “Alcohol does soothe that strange feeling away.”
Meg could not stop the incredulity and confusion from showing on her face. She turned to Lucian and realized that he, too, was inebriated to the point of swaying slightly while standing still.
“Lass, he’s right.” He put a hand on her shoulder as if willing her to understand some deep meaning — though she half suspected that he was using her to steady himself. “The alcohol does something, it dulls that noise.”
“The buzz.. it goes away when I drink,” Meg turned slightly, staring at the glass in Corey’s hand as she turned her thoughts inward. That awful intruding static was there, preventing her from focusing on the ether, along with an ache that was likely the result of yesterday’s rum.
Taking hold of Corey’s glass, she sipped back the brandy and had to stop herself from coughing it back up. Criminy, this stuff is nothing like rum. How did grandmama drink this stuff every night after dinner? She took another sip, then another, trying to find some way to drink with the sole purpose of not tasting it much at all.
Ten minutes of silence, sipping, and intent staring off into nothing later, the stuff was roaring through her veins and she could tell. Yes, it’s going away. I can feel again. She closed her eyes and pushed her senses out into the ether, feeling her surroundings. She felt Lucian and Corwin strongly in the room with her, felt the ether swirling and pooling, and let a little sigh escape from her lips.
“If I may…?” Corwin reached a hand out for his brandy and Meg sheepishly surrendered it back to its owner, then turned to find herself something more enjoyable to drink. “I must be the worst guardian in the whole of this human world. I’m encouraging a young lady of high standing to bring herself to the lows of drink,” he said ironically, pressing his eyes to his palms.
Lucian slapped his back enthusiastically and laughed, “Don’t ye worry, Corey, she’s handled worse. I’d like t’see her handle some of those stuffy history classes while full of rum. Last time she did that, she corrected the professor so many times, he’d had her tossed out as a delusional delinquent!”
“That is not encouraging, Lucian!” Meg blushed while putting a stopper back onto a tall decanter of rum which, she guessed, Lucian had procured during the night. “We need to go see Byron, right away. I think he can help us.”
“You’ve had an idea?” Corwin asked.
“Better than that. I had a Foretelling.”
Just as Corwin’s eyebrows shot up, the doorbell rang, announcing a blurred figure on the other side of the pane in the door. A few knocks followed, then a polite voice implored, “Corwin? Meg?”
“Aidan?!” Meg leapt out of her chair and ran for the foyer, flinging the door open and throwing a hug at him. The boy took the assault as best as he could, stumbling back a bit. Meg immediately backed away, “Oh Aidan, how are you feeling? You shouldn’t be up and about!”
He ran a hand sheepishly through his hair to try and put it back into place, but it had been growing out for a while, and flopped back in protest. “Well, I came to see if you’d found Devlin yet. Beccah and Ren have been fending off an influx of Unseelie and Byronites as of last night. Apparently, they think the Fall is the latest trend for court socialites. I’d heard a few of them talk about catching a glimpse of the Sapphire Prince like she was some high and haughty statue, so I thought I’d come see you this morning.”
Despite his good-natured determination to help, it was obvious that he was still weak from the Druidic rites of only two nights ago. Watchers were imbued with the ether upon initiation and acceptance into the Order, giving them increased speed, agility, and healing capabilities. Despite that advantage, not even a Fae would be fully recovered in such a short time from that particular event. His skin was pale, and eyes tired, but he was awake and well.
“You’re a dear, Aidan,” she grasped his hand gratefully, afraid she’d bring him crashing down if she hugged him again. “Your arm! How is it?” She raised his arm up to get a good look; the scar on his wrist had improved, and was now just a pale memory of what it was only two nights ago. Magic was capable of many things, she was a lot less surprised than she would have been two years ago.
“Well enough, though it was strange to wake up and be told that I’d been asleep for over 24 hours. Beccah almost had me scrub out the barracks by myself with a toothbrush for being out of commission for taking such risks,” he said with a lopsided grin. It sounded far too much like something she actually would say.
With a wry smile, she tugged him indoors and herded him into the kitchen where both Fae had resumed drinking rather heavily, yet remaining perfectly civilized. “Ah, m’boy, I hear you were quite the noble hero the other night!” Lucian clapped his back with a knowing glint in his eye.
“I just did what I had to!” Aidan replied. “We had no other choice,” a dark look settled over his normally kind eyes. “She’s not back yet, is she?”
“… No, lad.”
“Do we know why she’s been taken, at least? A ransom or anything? What did you see in the Circle, Meg?”
Meg led him to a chair and sat him down wordlessly, then found her drink and her own chair before she started speaking. A hard frown appeared on his face as she recalled the events after they left him in Shana’s care. He was baffled that Byron had enough attachment to her to help; like most others, he took Byron to be a pompous self-indulgent twit, who just happened to be cruel as well. He laughed with delight when she told him of their posturing the previous night at the Cup, understanding now why the new crowd at the Fall had been so taken with her. “Someone must have pointed out that you liked hanging out at the Fall and thought they’d flock to see their newest celebrity in her own setting.”
“I’m not pleased at being made into some kind of pompous celebrity, Aidan. Devlin had better appreciate this when we finally rescue her,” Meg took a sip of rum.
Aidan raised an thick dark eyebrow at the three of them, sipping (or slurping) away at their choice of alcohol. “A bit early for that, isn’t it?”
“Well, the Lady Sapphire here has discovered that alcohol keeps out this … buzzing, that has been spiking the ether lately. At times, I feel as if I cannot grasp the shadows when the buzzing grows too loud,” Corwin admitted.
“It feels remarkably similar to a hangover after a late night of cajoling and rum, is what it feels like,” Lucian said.
“We were just going to go see Byron, actually,” Meg stood, remembering where their conversation was before Aidan’s appearance. “But before we do.. Lucian, do you ever remember a past Sapphire being able to show other people Sight?”
He shook his head regretfully, “Nay, lass, but that’s not to say it isn’t possible. Sapphires have always been known to be able to See, but I have never seen that gift shared with others. I have known many Sapphires, but I have not known them all.”
Aidan frowned, “Well, if we need a guinea pig, I’ll do it.”
“No, Aidan. I didn’t get to tell you earlier, but thank you. What you did was selfless and noble. You’ve given more than anyone could ask, and I would not ask you for more,” Meg drew herself up as she spoke, looking and sounding every bit a Prince. “But you may accompany us to see Byron. I have had a premonition, and I want to see if it means what I think it does.”
Corwin extended both hands out resignedly, sardonically stating with a straight face, “Your shadow taxi awaits.”