Chapter Fourty Five - Psionon at the Dom Terrace
As Psion landed in front of the Quaro portway, I jumped from his back and hurried into the Edifice. As usual, the place was full of dragons but this bit was pretty quiet.
I gave him a mental shout to come on through
I heard the little dragon approaching… then there was some sort of commotion in the tunnel and I sort of held my breath. I mean… if anything happened in there, he’d be totally helpless. After a surprisingly long time he emerged, looking astonishingly ungainly as he used his short forelegs to help himself crawl forwards. “What took you so long?” I demanded.
“The portways were not designed to accommodate someone of my substantiality!” he explained.” At one point, I found myself lodged fast and required Jenko’s assistance to free myself. Now, should we proceed or would you prefer to linger here as we discuss the merits of your selection of junder-dimensioned entrances?”
“Or over-dimensioned bellies?” I murmured as Jenko and I hopped onto his back.
But Psion didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned all serious as he wrapped us up in his most intense illusion. Then he stepped off the terrace and we glided downwards, sticking close to the wall.
By now, I could half-way see through the illusion that he’d used to hide the lair but of course Jenko couldn’t. I could feel him tensing up behind me as we flew straight towards what, for him, was a solid wall.
Then we flashed from the light of the Edifice into the darkness of the lair. “One moment,” Psion said as he landed. He applied his mind and the place was flooded with a delicate half-light.
“Welcome to my lair,” Psion said, as Jenko stared around, lost for words at the incredible place, “or, to be more precise,” the little dragon went on, slightly wistfully, “Psionon’s lair, for it is your dear, departed mother’s taste which endowed it with the elegance and sophistication it enjoys.”
“But, if this is Psionon’s lair,” Jenko said, stumbling over his words in his excitement, “then you must be…”
“Psion at your service,” he responded with an extravagant flourish of his tail.
“How on earth do you know my mother?” I demanded. I thought for a moment then added, “You’re much too young.”
“Your mother?” Jenko exploded. “I thought you were just some nonentity tyro like me. ‘Psionon at the Dom Terrace’ is one of my favourite battle sagas.”
“And aren’t you supposed to be dead?” he said, turning to Psion.
“I believe the phrase, ‘Rumours of my death have been much exaggerated,’ is entirely apposite,” the little dragon observed with a bit of his bubbly cloud thing.
But I was less than amused. “Excuse me!” I said, turning to him sharply. “What, exactly, is going on here? Why do I get the impression that you’ve not been telling me the truth.” I tried to keep my voice calm but I guess I had a dirty great dollop of the menacing undertone thing going on.
But Psion turned and looked me straight in the eye, kind of opening his mind to me as he did. “I have always told you the truth,” he said simply. “Though I will admit to having avoided prematurely divulging certain items of information, the revelation of which would have increased yet further the peril of your position.”
“What, exactly, do you mean by that?” My voice was ice cold.
“Would you have been able to act out the rôle of loyal little neck guard if you had known that it was Rhiannas’s treachery that led to your mother’s death?”
That shut me up.
“No, I don’t suppose I would,” I admitted at last.
“However, the time has now come to provide you with the unexpurgated story of the fall of Psion,” he said. “But, before I start, I wish to reiterate one point. I have not and will never lie to you.” Then he stopped talking and just stared at me.
And I couldn’t resist those golden eyes for long so I gave him a smile to let him know I accepted he’d been acting in my best interests.
With that, he drew himself up into his familiar professor’s pose. “Your mother loved you more than you can ever know,” he said. “She sent me away at the end, sacrificing her own chance of survival to get me away. I was to look after you, though for a long while I was not able to find you. This much I have told you.”
“The full truth is this. At the start of the Year of Flame and Sword, when you were just a few weeks old, your mother and I were ambushed up by the Rhian flute by the combined forces of the Quaro and Hendon Houses. It was evident from the outset that we would be unable to resist them without assistance so we battled our way back down to the Dom terrace. There we could expect and demand aegis from our sworn ally, the House of Rhian.
“But when no such support was forthcoming, it was evident that our cause was lost.
“Your mother instructed me to save myself so that I could be there for you. In the midst of the fray, she span an illusion of me which allowed me to conceal myself with a more straightforward illusion and flee. I have told you before that I consider myself something of a master of illusions but that magnum opus, created in the midst of battle, was the ultimate expression of our art.
“I slipped off the terrace and, not knowing what else to do, I sank down toward the base of the Edifice in, I suppose, the irrational hope that she could save herself and I could be of assistance.
“Of course, as soon as her illusion of me was hit, it vanished.”
“Quaroclethyfur struck a mighty blow,” Jenko quoted, “and the body of her faithful servant, Psion, shattered into a million pieces.”
“At times your dear, departed mother exhibited a slight tendency towards the melodramatic,” Psion reminisced with a faraway look in his golden eyes.
“Anyway,” he gave a bit of a sigh, “there was no way she could resist the attentions of all those attackers indefinitely.”
“Hendonnas’s jaws closed on Psionon,” Jenko quoted again, “and she was transformed into a stream of pure energy that rose into the heavens as a column of light that dazzled all who saw it and illuminated the entire Edifice.”
“At the last, her sense of drama served some purpose,” Psion said. “Whilst they were all frantically chasing her illusion out through the mouth of the Edifice, I could bring her poor broken body to this unused lair, which I happened to know. And there she is.”
He pointed out the little urn on the pedestal at the back of the dais. “I cremated her and was waiting until I found you so that we could give her a proper funeral.”
I nodded, wiping a tear from my eye.
“As the Year of Flame and Sword was in full flow, I had little difficulty retrieving her more treasured possessions and arranging them fittingly. Once that task was completed, I set out to look for you. The rest you know.”
“And there’s nothing else you’re holding back from me?”
“I give you my word that, from now on, I will never again withhold anything of significance from you.”
“Thank you,” I said simply. The two of us stood in silence for a few moments, each in our own thoughts.
“Right,” I said at last, turning to Jenko. “You might be able to survive this whole thing, no matter what happens to us.”
He looked pretty dubious but didn’t say anything.
“We brought you here against your will and, of course, as soon as we let you go you’ll hurry over to see Janenas.”
“I guess that’s what I’d do anyway,” he answered.
“If we win, it’s simple. Just tell him that I’ll be over to see him soon and I’d be extremely disappointed if he barbecues you first.”
“If you beat Rhiannas, there won’t be many who would want to get on your wrong side. But how on earth can I save myself if you lose?”
“There’s a bit of a story there,” I began. “You remember the day I put your shoulder out?”
“I took you down to see our friend Psion”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Psion stripped those memories from your head,” I explained. “He also did a couple of other things whilst he was in there. “Firstly, he sorted out some problems around your implanted node which had been causing you all sorts of problems.”
I paused for a bit to let Jenko gather his thoughts. “Thank you for that,” he said to Psion. “That explains a great deal.”
“You are most welcome,” Psion responded. “I cannot abide shoddy workmanship.”
“Also,” I went on, “whilst he was in there, he couldn’t resist playing. Firstly, he implanted some artificial loyalty to me.”
“That really wasn’t necessary.”
“If you think about it, you were pretty much bound to say that, weren’t you?” I said with a grin. “We’ll only know whether it’s true or not when he’s taken it out.”
He had to smile at that.
“He also,” I threw a hard stare at Psion, “implanted an instinct in you to feed him.”
“Less of an instinct, more a reflex,” Psion commented as an aside, but he was cut across by Jenko.
“He did what?”
“Whenever you were on the meat run, you chucked a lump over the edge of the cliff for our mutual, gluttonous friend.”
“I knew there was something going on!” Jenko exploded. “I thought I was going mad.”
“You agreed to most…” I cast a sideways glance at Psion… “of these changes before he made them. But, of course, those are some of the memories that he scrubbed so you’ll just have to trust us on this.”
“Now I know as well as you, how unbearable it is to have somebody messing about in your head and so Psion will take the changes out for you straight after the duel…”
“Can’t you do it now?”
“Nothing could be easier,” Psion answered, “but how, then, would you explain your action with the meat? Given the clue, a skilled mind reamer will be able to recognise my interference with the constructs in your head and you will no longer be held responsible.”
“But if people find out that you’ve been messing about with my implanted node, you’ll be declared anathema!” Jenko said.
“Given this eventuality is contingent on our being defeated in the duel with Rhiannas, I believe that it is a hazard we can face with some level of equanimity.”
“This is only going to happen if Rhiannas has already reduced us to charcoal!” I explained.
“Oh yeah! I’d forgotten that,” Jenko said.
“I imagine that it is rather easier for you to forget than for us,” Psion observed. I mean… he sounded a bit put out but he did his bubbly cloud thing to tell us he was only teasing.
Jenko gave an embarrassed grin and wandered across to the other side of the lair. He started to have a look at one of the tapestries, deep in thought.
“Now,” Psion said, turning to me, “have you, by any chance, given mind to our approach to the forthcoming encounter?”
“A bit,” I answered. “He’s going to be annoyed at us for challenging him, isn’t he? He’s not going to think that we’re worthy opponents.”
“He is unlikely to stand alone in that opinion,” Psion observed coolly.
“So he’s going to want to do the whole, ‘going for height, stooping down, biting the neck’ bit, isn’t he?”
“I anticipate that he will attempt to combust you rather than attack me as it is you who is challenging him but otherwise you are correct.”
“I’ve ridden you both and I think that the two of us can just about hold him in a climb, but, as he’s the challenged party, he’ll get to move first…”
Psion gave a bit of a nod
“I don’t want to give him that sort of jump on us. So, as soon as he takes off, I was thinking of diving underneath him.”
“An extraordinary tactic,” Psion commented thoughtfully, “and not without risk. We will momentarily be utterly exposed.”
“But he’s going to be looking up, not down.” I said, “so he won’t get the chance to react and he’ll be forced to turn to face us.”
“I suppose it might work,” Psion said. “It certainly introduces the element of surprise.” He was quiet for a moment, thinking about the risks and rewards.
Suddenly he looked up. “Try something wild and extravagant!” he said with a nod. “You will also need to be prepared for the moment he activates your implanted node. You will be obliged to handle that aspect of the conflict entirely by yourself. We will be under the most minute observation and any interference or even support from me in that endeavour would result in our both being declared anathema.”
“I’m fairly sure I can deal with it.”
“Were that not the case, I would, at this moment, be advising you, most assiduously, to flee!” he said with more of his bubbly cloud thing. “Rhiannas, on the other hand, remains blissfully unaware of your ability to resist. When he recognises his misapprehension, he will be momentarily discombobulated, presenting us with the opportunity to decisively resolve the confrontation in our favour.”
I was quiet for a bit, thinking about the upcoming duel. Funnily enough, the hateful implanted node was making it easier for me to face Rhiannas. Without it, the terror churning around inside me would leave me totally helpless. I mean… if my mind wasn’t being so heavily muffled, I didn’t know whether I’d be able to think, let alone go out there to challenge such a terrifying enemy.