Chapter Fourty Seven - The End of the Circle
“Wait!” Psion said as I strained to meet Rhiannas’s challenge with my sword.
“Wait…” I guess it was as much for himself as for me.
“Wait…” He was managing to stay inhumanly calm.
Rhiannas leapt from his gate.
Psion and I shared this wild, half cerebral scream thing as we did the same.
As we’d guessed, he tried to take control of the fight by going for early height. So Psion dived underneath him. For a moment, the skin on the back of my neck crept, knowing we were utterly exposed. If he could bring his talons or flame to bear, the whole thing would be over before it even started.
Then we were through… and we were climbing steeply behind him. That forced him to turn sharply… and that cost him time… and height. Before he had completed his manœuver we were level with him.
We both circled, slowly and cautiously, for a few moments, just looking at each other. Then Rhiannas leapt across the space between us, gorging flame. I felt my mother’s spurs biting true as Psion tumbled to one side to avoid annihilation.
We circled once again. But now Rhiannas had a distinct height advantage. So, when his next attack came, it was even faster.
But, this time, I was ready for him. As Rhiannas gathered his passion to flame, I sent a probing stab into his mind which deflected the force of the inferno away from us.
I was vaguely aware of the onlookers in the inferior ring behind us scattering as the flame fell amongst them. But Psion jumped on that. “Be alert, Young Mistress! Shield our minds!”
So I flipped into the cloud world and began to throw up my most impregnable mind fortress. But when the first attack landed, it still wasn’t all that secure. Psion wobbled violently in the air as he threw his will in to support my teetering structure until I could lock it solidly in place.
But, once it was in position, Rhiannas’s will crashed ineffectually against my walls. I even had enough will left over to add my own little twist to a mental thrust that Psion threw out in Rhiannas’s direction.
It wasn’t much but it did the job.
I flipped back into the base domain for a moment. Rhiannas’s look of contempt had erupted into incandescent rage. Gouts of flame were spewing, uncontrolled, from his nostrils. “What?” he bellowed. “You continue to defy me!”
Then I felt his hateful implanted node springing to life inside my head. He was going to use it to destroy me from within. I threw out a quick warning to Psion then sank back into my own cloud.
The vile thing started sending out these pulsing, evil waves which wanted to obliterate the very essence of my being.
With the familiarity of months of practice, I quickly rebuilt my tower of strength to meet this new threat. The attacking waves hammered against it, spreading chaos and confusion. But they couldn’t break through to get at the crux of my true self.
For a while, it was all I could do to stand against those waves which were trying to obliterate me. But then gradually…. gradually… I started to push my tower out. As each wave crashed and withdrew, I built out my shielded area… just a touch, at first, but it was enough. As I took back control of more of my mind, I grew stronger…. which meant I could push my shield out even further until it wasn’t just a tower protecting my crux anymore. Instead, it was a noose, enclosing the despised implanted node.
And now I could start to tighten my grip on the thing… advance and hold… advance and hold… advance and hold…
“The moment will soon be upon us for you to release your passion…” Psion told me… “to make manifest your rage and indignation. Prepare yourself…”
So, as one part of my mind carried on tightening the noose, I deliberately drew together my rage. The images flashed through my mind: Megan’s tumbling body… the mother I never knew… Carodoc’s body, motionless on the Henge sands… and, above all, my own bitter humiliation that first evening.
As my rage mounted, my strangling noose grew tighter. The node began to pulse… frantically… as if it knew its end was coming.
Then, with a desperate shudder of self control, I managed to pause my advance. “Hurry up!” I hissed at Psion. “I can’t hold it in much longer.”
“Wait,” he replied impassively.
The images were flashing past more quickly now as my rage mounted. And as the node squirmed and thrashed in my grip, I felt the resentment and anger bubbling up inside me. I desperately fought against the demanding urge to crush the vile thing.
“Wait,” Psion repeated.
“Wait!” By now, he was almost chanting the word, as if it were a mantra.
I risked throwing a glance out of Psion’s eyes, trying to work out what we were waiting for. But, back in the base domain, he and Rhiannas were just locked in a tight circle, staring at each other. Whatever he was making us wait for certainly wasn’t out there.
“Wait!” I could feel Psion’s own anger boiling up and was starting to see what he was making us wait for.
“Wait!” I joined in Psion’s chant to help me to control my own shuddering will.
“Wait!” Psion was trembling too.
“Ready!” It was obvious that he couldn’t hold it in much longer.
“Ready!” We were both about to explode.
“Now!” Psion screamed. I unleashed the restraints and let my will crash in to crush that vile node. It imploded with an eerie silence. For a moment, that silence lingered.
Then I let out a wild scream as the months of pent-up rage exploded. I didn’t have a chance to control the wild maelstrom of fury that came bubbling up from inside me. It was all I could do to channel it across to Psion in the hope that he could do something with it.
And Psion’s own rage flashed back to me across the perfect cerebral link we shared. I felt the echoes of his loss, frustration and helplessness… his years as an outcast… just the one single desperate hope giving him the strength to carry on… that one day he might be able to fulfill his cruelly betrayed mistress’s last instruction: “Look after my baby!”
But suddenly my wild paroxysm of rage was over, leaving me shaken and empty.
As soon as I could gather my senses, I flipped back into the base domain.
I was in time to see our shared rage tearing across the Edifice as an incandescent, unquenchable wall of fire.
The wild passion of our flame astonished Rhiannas and sent him fluttering backwards and to one side. Sensing our advantage, Psion pounced, leaping across the intervening space with a savage shriek. As he pounced, my rapier and poignard sprang into my hands.
As Psion raked his talons across Rhiannas’s flank, he brought me within range. My first blow was deflected by an emphatic mind parry, so I jumped to my feet and dummied to the back of his neck with my poignard. As he flinched away from the blow, I dropped back to my knees, using my weight and my mind to drive my mother’s sword into the muscles of his left wing.
He flung himself downwards, out of range, but as we began to circle once more, we could see that I’d done damage. His flying was much less smooth… more laboured.
“Height now!” I ordered Psion. “A Sheer Climb!”
“I do hope you know what you’re doing,” he replied mildly as he threw himself into the climb. “I am not able to support you as Liberty does.”
“Silence! I have a plan but I need height.”
That Sheer Climb was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Psion was stronger now… much stronger than when I’d first known him… but he was still far from the height of his strength. After the first few wing strokes, I was basically having to lift most of our weight with my mind. All I could do was lock my mother’s image in my mind, grit my teeth and drive us higher.
At first Rhiannas matched us. But his damaged wing couldn’t take the strain. Before we’d reached the highest spectator ring, he’d broken into a wary circle. With a desperate shudder, I pushed on. Only when we’d got the extra height I needed did I break from that impossible climb.
Rhiannas and Psion circled watchfully, gathering their strength for the climax of the fight. “When you’re ready,” I said, fighting to control my breathing, “we’re going to dive down on him. You’re going to push an illusion of us ahead of where we actually are. He’ll rear up to meet it. As he starts to flame, you jump to one side and get out of there. Is that clear?”
“I understand what you require though I am a little perplexed as to your intent,” Psion replied. “I am not overly keen to sacrifice this height advantage. I am fairly sure that neither you nor I could manage a climb like that again.”
“You’re just going to have to trust me on this,” I told him. “If I have to say it out loud, I might realise how stupid it is.”
“That’s encouraging,” Psion observed mildly. “Very well, Young Mistress. I am, as ever, yours to command.”
I carefully sheathed my mother’s sword and poignard. “Let’s go!” I said
Time stood still as Psion folded in his wings and went into the dive. Ahead of us, I could see the illusion I’d asked for. For me, it looked pretty wispy and insubstantial but I knew Psion would be concentrating on pushing it into Rhiannas’s mind.
I was vaguely aware of the three banks of circling dragons, all watching eagerly for the coming kill. At least they were getting the spectacle they wanted.
I calmly unhooked my spurs and touched my hand to my mother’s leather bracelet, gently hiding my presence from Rhiannas’s mind.
Yes, Rhiannas was rearing to face us. It was the only thing he could do. I could feel him building his flame but I couldn’t spare the will that I’d need to deflect it. “Ready, Psion… ready… ready…”
As Psion veered violently away, I stepped off his back. In the heat of the battle, and hidden behind the illusion and my mother’s bracelet supported by my own shields, Rhiannas didn’t notice me. He followed Psion with his billowing blast of flame.
I needed all my mind power to steer and slow my fall but my spurs bit true. I’d done it! I was on Rhiannas’s shoulders.
There was a mere fraction of a second’s delay before he worked out what I’d done. I used it to sink my spurs in even deeper… grab his crenels… gather my will
And throw up my most implacable shield. My life depended on it.
Then Rhiannas exploded in a formless mass of white fury.
And this wasn’t the unschooled bucking of some wild dragon. It was the purposeful attempt by an intelligent and experienced enemy to shift me. He twisted and turned and bucked and thrashed and rolled.
But my spurs held true. There was nothing he could do to move me.
He tried battering at the fortress of my mind. Blow after blow came raining down on me. But I took strength from my dominant position. His will scattered off the fortress of my mind like water off a granite boulder.
In spite of his wounded wing, he started to fly faster and faster in his impotent rage, skimming walls, gates and even the spectator rings in a desperate attempt to free himself from this abominable parasite. As he skimmed, I flattened myself against his back and gently used my mind to ease room for myself.
At last he realised he could do no more. He threw himself into long, slow, wheeling turns around the Edifice, gradually climbing.
I carefully took my poignard from its sheath, placed it’s tip between his top two vertebrae and spoke gently into his mind. “I have you now,” I told him. “You must submit or die.”
“If I die, you die too,” he answered gruffly.
“I might not be able to save myself,” I agreed. I mean… Psion was desperately struggling to get in behind us and he might be able to catch me but it definitely wasn’t a sure thing.
“And you know that, if we both die, the House of Rhian will fall. Neither of us want that, do we?”
I paused to give him the chance to think about it.
“If I live, the House of Rhian will live on and, what is more, if you add your strength to mine, it will shine once more like the beacon it once was.”
I went quiet for a bit as he carried on with his long, slow circles
“Maybe,” I added thoughtfully, “you saw this coming when you gave me Rhian-Ceridwen’s torque… and her blade…”
I paused again.
“And maybe that’s what you meant when you said, ‘The End of the Circle’.”
Then, just for a moment, I opened my mind to him and gave him a glimpse of the scale of my ambition. “You know Rhian will never soar so high with you at its head,” I told him. “Please come on this flight with me.”
Rhiannas continued to circle for a few moments, deep in thought, before letting out a deep sigh. “Let it be!” he said as he yielded. “I am yours to command.”
He glided slowly down and then landed pretty roughly in the sands of the Henge. He was trying to hide it, of course, but his wounded wing was giving him real trouble. I jumped down off his back and stood in front of him, shaking a bit.
I looked up to see Psion circling unsteadily above us. “Come down,” I told him. “This is as much your victory as mine.”
As he fluttered down, I saw he had scorch marks down his left flank. He landed, quite deliberately, on the Rhian gate where he perched, a bit unsteadily.
“What happened?” I asked.
“When I recognised your reckless intent, I did what I could to draw his attention. I was completely successful in that regard but it did necessitate approaching rather closer to his flame than was entirely prudent.”
“Thank you, my faithful servant and friend,” I said simply.
He bowed deeply to me.
I returned my attention to Rhiannas, who had flattened himself on the floor in front of me with his head in the sand. I stepped forward and put a foot on it.
“Now open your mind to me.”
As he did, I slipped into his cloud and was almost overwhelmed by the history of savagery, violence and destruction I found there. Psion coupled his will to mine to guide me as I prepared to insert the implanted node but then I changed my mind.
“No,” I said, removing my foot from his head and standing back. “I know that you need your passion or you will be greatly reduced. For the sake of the House of Rhian, I will not cripple one of its most potent weapons in that way. We both know that the House of Rhian is much stronger with me at its head, and that is all the loyalty I require. You have sworn fealty and I shall take you on your oath.”
I paused for a moment then announced to the Edifice, “I name you Rhiandu! Rhiandu, you may rise.”
“I am touched,” the newly named Rhiandu replied as he raised his head from the ground. “But now you are the Head of the House of Rhian you should, perhaps, remove Rhian-Ceridwen’s torque. Should I release the catch for you, Mistress?”
I had to have a think about that. I mean… I’d been wearing the thing for so long that it had pretty much become a part of me.
“No!” I answered at last. “I think I’m going to keep wearing it… and not just because it’s beautiful… but also as a sign of the link between the two of us. Anyone who’s important will understand this. As for anyone else…” I gave a sort of a smile thing… “well… the two of us together should be able to deal with them!”
Then Rhiandu and Psion linked their minds. “Then allow us, Mistress,” they said together, “to be the first to honour you. We hail you…”
They paused for a moment before filling the whole Edifice with my new name.