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Qeteb spoke lies!
StarLaughter lay on the floor of the mausoleum and hated. More, she lusted for revenge. Qeteb could not speak such lies and blacken her son’s memory —
Gods! Was her son trapped under that mountain of metal and odious flesh, screaming for her to get him out?
— and think that she would do nothing about it.
StarLaughter bared her teeth, and made a small sound deep in her throat that was half curse, half growl.
Her hands clawed on the floor, her nails scratching at its surface.
She lay there and hated, and she lay there and lusted for revenge.
StarLaughter was very, very good at nourishing both hatred and revenge. She had had many thousands of years of practice at both.
I nurtured my son, she thought, her entire body rigid with the intensity of her animosity. I nurtured him and kept him and held and loved him through such extremes of pain and despair that you — a Demon — cannot imagine. I offered him my breast, and he took it.
I loved him, and yet you stole him from me, Qeteb, and then sullied his memory with lies.
“My son hated me?” StarLaughter whispered, her hands still clawing slowly at the floor. “He didn’t hate me, he adored me … every Icarii adored me! No-one laughed at me. No-one!”
She lifted her head slightly and stared at Qeteb, now on the far side of the mausoleum whispering with his fellow nightmares.
You are the simpleton, Qeteb, if you think you can deny both my son and myself our destinies.
At StarLaughter’s thought, Qeteb turned slowly and regarded her.
StarLaughter did not move, nor drop her eyes, nor even disguise the hatred and resentment in them.
After a moment Qeteb turned his back to her again.
Now you have one more enemy, StarLaughter thought, and began to mop at the blood on her face and neck with a corner of her much-bloodied robe.
Her son hadn’t hated her… had he?
StarLaughter paused in her attempts to clean her face, and her entire face trembled as doubt overran her mind.
Chapter 6 The Enchanted Song Book (#ulink_70819978-89a1-55e9-93fe-d0de9362b32c)
“Tell us of Caelum,” Axis said, as they sat down.
“And tell us of yourself. We have heard only garbled snippets, and we would know the truth.”
Where to start? DragonStar thought. “You realise,” he finally said, “the depth of manipulation that has bound our family?”
Axis nodded. “I thought my task had been to defeat Gorgrael and unite Tencendor, but in reality, my task, as Azhure’s, was to create the circumstances that would create the StarSon.”
DragonStar’s mouth quirked. “Yes. Even WolfStar had been manipulated in order that Azhure be created and Axis be trained, so that you might the better perform your task in creating…”
“You,” Azhure said very softly. She did not look at either her husband or her son.
“The manipulation,” DragonStar said, “extends beyond our family. It involves this entire land and its peoples, and stretches beyond that… back to the world of the Enemy. We are but the result of tens and tens of thousands of years of manipulation. Even longer, perhaps.”
“By what?” Axis demanded. “By who?”
“By the Star Dance,” DragonStar said. “Or whatever it represents.”
“The Star Dance!” Axis said, and he spoke the words as a curse, as a hated thing. “The time was when I loved that beyond anything, save Azhure.”
“It may be,” DragonStar said, “that the Star Dance has been leading to this point, to us, for millions of years. Chasing the Demons through time and space, and being chased by them.”
“We are the ultimate of millions of years of … manipulation?” Azhure said, and then laughed merrily, shaking out her hair. “Could the Star Dance have not made us less flawed? An Axis less arrogant and cruel? A DragonStar less resentful and ambitious? And I? I less determined to know my own power, and more willing to tend to my own family.”
“Who knows,” DragonStar said. “Our flaws may yet save us.” And he smiled, as if he had made a joke to himself. “Ah, but you asked of Caelum and of myself. We both grew up amid lies — not of your doing, or even of ours, but lies bound about us by the Star Dance, via the Maze. These lies dictated our action, driving me into such overweening ambition I could contemplate the murder of Caelum, and making Caelum …”
“A weak ruler,” Azhure finished for him, “and a murderer also, perhaps?”
Ye gods, DragonStar thought weakly, what should I say to that? Yes, mother. Caelum murdered our sister and your daughter. Do you want me to say that out loud, Azhure?
“Perhaps,” he answered, and Azhure nodded and turned aside her head for a second time.
“A murderer?” Axis said. “What do you mean?”
“He means,” Azhure said, “that we all have the blood of others on our hands, beloved.”
And Axis nodded, accepting what she said without truly understanding what she spoke of.
“Caelum’s true role was as a false StarSon,” DragonStar said. “A decoy. I needed time to grow, to learn, and to allow Qeteb the confidence to destroy Tencendor … which he would not have done if he’d known the StarSon still lived.”
Briefly, DragonStar told his parents of the hidden Acharite magic that could be touched only with the passage through death.
Axis stared at Azhure, his eyes excited, then looked back at DragonStar. “But that means that I, too, can use the Acharite power!”
DragonStar shook his head. “I’m sorry, Axis, but —” “I’ve been to death’s gate, even though the haggard old crone wouldn’t let me through. Why can’t I use my Acharite blood?”
“Because of your overpowering use of the Star Dance.” DragonStar paused, feeling his father’s frustration. “And you have been a Star God. Your Icarii-bred magic has killed whatever potential Acharite magic you had. When you proclaimed yourself StarMan, you also literally killed your Acharite magic in favour of the Star Dance. I’m sorry, Axis.”
Axis subsided, bitterly disappointed. For a moment, just a moment, he’d thought…
Axis shook his head, putting his disappointment aside. “What else do you have to tell us?”
DragonStar hesitated, still sympathising with Axis. Then he continued, telling them of Urbeth, the original Enchantress and mother of races, and Azhure gasped and fingered the now-dulled Circle of Stars on her finger. He told them everything he could of the time he’d spent with the Demons, and what had happened to him once he’d returned to Tencendor. He told them of the manner of Caelum’s death.
And, finally, he told them of the Infinite Field of Flowers, and what awaited Tencendor once — if — the Demons had been destroyed.
Axis and Azhure listened in silence, their faces growing more and more pallid, their eyes progressively rounder, as DragonStar spoke.
“And Caelum,” Azhure said as DragonStar finally finished. “Caelum?”
“Is in the Field of Flowers,” DragonStar said. “Be sure of that.”
“Can we see him? You said that Zared and Theod saw the Field of Flowers. Can we —”
“No,” DragonStar said. “Wait, let me explain. You cannot see it yet, but if all goes well, then, well, we will all experience the Field of Flowers. But I cannot take you from Sanctuary into the field. We need to go from Tencendor itself. There is only one gateway.”
“But Spiredore,” Azhure said. “Draw your door of light, take us into Spiredore, and thence into —”
“Azhure,” DragonStar said, and leaned across the table to take her hand. “Qeteb has risen, and the Demons now control the wasteland that once was Tencendor. I do not know if Spiredore is safe any more. It probably is, but ‘probably’ is not good enough to needlessly risk your lives. I will go first, and then one or two of the other five who have been through death and can resist the Demons, for a while at least. Wait. Please.”
Azhure nodded, and dropped her eyes. They fell on the cloth-wrapped parcel that still sat on the table.
“Caelum asked us to give this to you,” Azhure said, “if he… if he died.”
She pushed the parcel across the table towards DragonStar.
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