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"Threnody," said Luthien, "stick to boats."
"Hey." She whipped off her sunglasses and pointed them at him. "Who conquered two planes of the Abyss, you, or me?"
"You--conquered two planes of the Abyss?"
"You never told us that." He eyed her skeptically. "If that's true, how come you haven't been giving us tactical advice before this?"
"Because all the best techniques for small battles involve really sick psychic warfare you *don't* want to know about. This time we've got an army to work with." She put her sunglasses back on. "I'm sick of being dissed by you. Maybe I don't know much about magic, or politics, or metaphysics, but I'm the decorated military commander of a lesser goddess, and if I say we can flank them, we can flank them."
"All right," said Luthien. "I'm sorry." There was a pause. "Were--they cool planes?"
"They were mediocre," said Threnody. "But they made a difference in the balance of power."
"Bet you're regretting that."
"Six of one, half a dozen. Everybody down there sucks."
"Perhaps." The drow's voice was treacherously silky; she continued to circle the group. "That remains to be seen. What are these you have brought here?" She reached out two long fingers and caught Threnody's necklace, twisting them in it and pulling her forward a bit. "Elves?"
Threnody breathed a few times and then grabbed the smaller woman by her shirt front and dragged her to within about an inch of her own face. "No, you daviksa, I'm a *demon* lord!"
The drow pulled her head back as far on her neck as she could and regarded her, her teeth together. There was a terrible silence. She slowly withdrew her fingers and Threnody pushed her from her. She said something over her shoulder in her own language, smoothing her shirt. One of her colleagues responded. "You will follow us. Our high priestess will decide your fate." She looked carefully at Threnody. "Do not try to escape. You are guarded." One of the huge spiders brushed up against Tila, and she made a little shriek and pushed Luthien between her and the spider. "Follow us now."
Tila whapped Threnody hard in the back of the head. -You idiot!- she broadcast. -Are you trying to get us *killed*?-
"Well what did *you* have in mind," she hissed, and folded her arms. After a moment she went back to the net. -Demons are more popular here than elves.-
-How about smacking priestesses around? Is that popular?-
-Well it got her attention.-
-Maybe you should let me do the talking here, Threnody-, Praxis suggested respectfully.
The drow who had captured them explained the situation to the high priestess in the ominous whispering clicks of their language. They turned around and regarded the prisoners together. Way too many eyes focused on them from the depths and folds of the massive web network. Praxis gave them his best business smile. "Greetings, ma'am. As I'm sure your assistant told you, we come in pe--"
"She told me," she cut him off. "You may pass through our realm. Do not touch or damage anything, do not enter our settlements, and do not leave your excrement in the river. We will retain the two elves as tribute."
"Uh, wait a--" Max started.
"That really isn't acceptable," said Praxis, "Perhaps we--"
"This is not negotiable," said the high priestess. "The discussion is finished. You may go or you may stay and be eaten as well. I am sure she is hungry enough." She pointed at a rhino-sized arachnid waiting in the center of the web behind her.
"I--really don't think so," said Threnody.
"Are you challenging us?" said the drow, very dangerously.
"Oh, no." She raised her hands. "No. I'm advising you. Have you ever seen what happens to demons when they die? Fwoosh." She snapped her fingers. "Goodbye holy spider, goodbye huge flammable web, goodbye every spider in this temple. How do you think Lolth's going to like that?" She paused, and sniffed the air. "Do--you have any methane down--"
"How dare you speak the name of Lolth," hissed the priestess furiously.
-Fireball is a good start-, Praxis agreed. -Luthien, if you take out the webs, I can handle the priestess.-
-Do you have a good idea for getting us out of here?-
-We'll have to wing it. Diplomacy isn't working.-
Threnody rubbed her neck. "Maybe I'm not making myself clear here," she said. "My mother *knows* Lolth. They're demon gods together."
You could hear the rustling of the spiders.
"Her name's Brionwy. Queen of Deception. You may have heard of her. Her armies have clashed with Lolth's at least twice; they were allied at least once, against Mavakinos, I think it was. Last I heard they were at what passes for normal relations down there. That means we leave her alone and she leaves us alone. But you are just *bound* and determined to change that, aren't you?" She pulled her hair off to one side and leaned into the wall with her elbow, exhaling noisily through rounded lips. "Look. I don't want a fight. I'm not here to mess with Lolth's people. I'm here for the illithids."
"The illithids," said the priestess, her eyes glittering, her voice very neutral. "Then you are allied with the illithids."
"Do I look like an ally of the illithids?" barked Threnody, with such real emotion that Max looked down.
"No," she said, carefully. "No, you don't." She tapped her long fingers together. "If we helped you," she said, "the illithids would read that in your mind."
"Not," said Threnody, "on the best day of their miserable lives."
"Then they would read it in your companions' minds. That is too risky. We will not help you." She frowned. "But we will not hinder you either." She looked at one of the other priestesses, who nodded. "Do not disturb us and we will disturb you no further."
"I don't want to disturb you," she said. "It gains nothing for anyone. Just cool it with the sacrificing me to Lolth crap. And give us our boat back. You don't have to help us." She paused. "Although if we found anything helpful along the way, we surely wouldn't know if it was a coincidence or not."
"Yes," said the priestess, very quietly. "Of course, if some accident befell you along the way, that might be a coincidence too."
Threnody grinned. "Coincidences are funny things. They work better if you suspend your disbelief. I'll take my chances; you can take yours."
"Arawn's *balls*, Threnody, are you in there again?"
"Fuck off and die, Luthien. Not today."
"This is your fourth bath since you got back. You're going to turn into a giant prune."
"I'm not going to die from a wrinkled toe, Luthien. Leave me alone."
"What the hell is your *problem*?" He rattled the door.
"Don't you have a wife you could be bothering?"
"You're just doing this to piss me off, aren't you?"
"I just--wanted--a bath."
"For five *hours*?"
"Uh, hey, Luthien?" came Max' voice. "Why don't you just use our bathtub?"
"He doesn't want your bathtub, Max, he only wants the one I'm using. He's worse than a kid."
"What does anybody need to take four baths for?"
"I was *dirty*."
"What have you been, mud wrestling?"
"Lay off her, Luthien. You can use my bathroom."
There was a short pause. "Are you two sleeping together again?"
"We never were, Luthien," she called. "It's an unfulfilled fantasy."
"I just think you should give her a break, that's all."
"It's not normal to spend five hours in the bathtub, Max. This is Sway here. There could be a powerful spirit caught in the drain trap, or some incubus in there seducing her."
"Incubi make a lot of noise when they come," said Threnody.
"So who says he's coming?"
"Kiss my ass."
"Luthien, nobody's mind controlling Threnody," said Max. "Just use our bathroom tonight, okay?"
"What's with *you*?"
"Or, stand in the hall sassing at me. I don't care, but I'm not coming out till I'm clean."
"You have ten minutes before I break this door down."
"*Luthien*," said Max.
"You try it, gladiator boy. I'm not unarmed when I'm naked."
"Luthien, are you on drugs? It's a stupid *bathroom*! Leave her alone!"
"It's the principle of the thing, Max."
"Look, she's had a really rough day."
"Max, just go away, all right? Let Luthien harass me in peace."
"What's going on out here?"
"Tila, will you tell Max that somebody who spends five hours in the bathtub is either really fucked up or they're trying to annoy someone?"
"What is this, a convention? You guys want a concert or what? FIRST WE LIE ON THE COUCH, MAKE ME MAMA DON'T KNOW."
"Cool acoustics. We should get Trissia in there."
"Really, Luthien. I mean really. Let's just go."
"I don't get it," said Tila.
"TAKE OFF ALLA OUR CLOTHES, MAKE ME HAVE A MY LABOR."
"All right already. When it turns out she was replaced by an evil aquatic monster when she was in captivity you'll be sorry."
"I just wanted a bath. Montasi, you'd think I was drinking somebody's blood. I just want a bath. If we still had the showers I'd be clean by now."
"Enough," said Max.
"Alain?" She tapped on the door as she came in, and he turned. "Hiya, babe, are you OK?"
He just looked at her, and for the first time in a long while Threnody had to look away first. "Duibh, I'm sorry. I had the mindlink to Praxis, and I was the only one who could do anything useful if they killed me. I know I stuck you with the hard end and I'm sorry, but it made sense, it did."
"Since I gave you your martyr instinct," he said, low, "it's hard to blame you for it."
"Oh, Alain." She crossed to him and took his hands. "Don't sound so pained. It was a perfect sting; we took the whole thing down with no casualties. I'm absolutely fine." He put his hand on the side of her head, gently, and the corners of his mouth deepened a little. She bit her lip and exhaled. "Threnody," he said, softly. She closed her eyes then, and he pressed the side of her face into his chest. No one said anything for a long time after that.
"They never used that awful thing on me."
"That's good," he said softly.
"They hardly hurt me at all. The things I've--" She tapped her hook with her left knuckles, turning partly away. "*This* hurt like a motherfucker. *This*--" she flicked her fingers at the scar across her forehead-- "I thought I was going to die. Malcar fucking *bit* me. This was nothing. This was literally nothing. This shouldn't--I've done demeaning things before. I'm not a child. You do what you need to do. This shouldn't break my stride. I've been through worse, it's just, it's being at their mercy." The words had started to tumble out of her, haphazardly. "It's having no defense. I'm afraid. I'm afraid."
He bowed his head to hers with pain. She shook irregularly and almost clung to him. "You have every defense," he whispered into her hair, power even in his hush. "To transcend is still a defense. Threnody. Threnody. Defend yourself the way sunlight does; rise above them, outlast them, they can hold you but they can't keep you long."
She choked on it, half-laughing and half-sobbing. "Oh, God, Duibh, how am I going to live without you."
"You don't have to," he said, softly.
Her face fell subdued, and her shuddering slowly subsided. "I'm sorry," she said, muted. "I--I never wanted to do this to you."
"I wanted it," he said. "I will always be part of you. Listen and you will hear me. Shalini." She looked up at him reflexively, and he took her by the upper arms. "It is a very difficult thing you are doing. I know. Let me help you."
She touched her tongue to her upper lip and closed her eyes, felt unsteadily down his arm to the crook of his elbow and gripped him hard. He put his other hand on her back and they stood together in the dwindling light.
"It's just been a really crappy couple of days." Threnody rubbed her neck. "Well, except for the part where we beat up the international terrorists and saved the world. That was pretty cool. And Luthien made me an omelet this morning. He's turning into quite a cook. But overall. Thanks." She took the tea. "I mean, I've been bitchy to everyone. And the worst part is, they're all being *nice* about it. And that makes me bitchier. I *hate* being patronized. So I've been spending a lot of time with Trissia, which pisses us both off." She poured tea darkly. "And I really lost my temper with that stupid terrorist. I came very close to behaving really badly."
"But you didn't," he said.
"No, but I shouldn't have been so out of control in the first place. I'm secretly a control freak. And these aren't my glory days." She blew into some stray strands of hair. "And Max saw me naked. I *hate* that. I can't stand having him look at me and knowing he doesn't care."
"Of course he cares."
"Not about what I want him to care about, buddy." She pushed the teapot across to him. "I remember it differently than he does. It's humiliating to see him look at me like I'm just *any* naked person. Montasi." She shook sugar into her cup. "And I feel filthy. I keep thinking I have some disease. And I have the strangest muscle cramps. Like, the tops of my feet hurt. The tops of my *feet*?" She drank some of the tea, and then said very rapidly "And I can't stop thinking about Lee."
"There was nothing you could have done," he said.
"There is always something."
"You couldn't have stopped them. Those were Draize's people."
"I could have done something afterwards. I ignored it."
"*She* was ignoring it. You did the best you could have."
"This is natural for you," she said. "I never learned this. Love for us was protection, tolerance, sometimes avenging someone. No one ever showed me how to lift somebody up. If I had known that then I could have helped her. I could have saved her."
"You needed her. That was more important."
"She needed *me*. I didn't even know until it was too late."
"You needed her," he said. "That was the thing she needed most of all. What would have become of her without you? Alone?"
Threnody started to cry. "She was beautiful. She was so beautiful."
"Listen to me." He turned her face up across the table. "She was like you." He pressed the thin scar across her forehead with his thumbs. "She would have suffered for what she believed. She didn't have a choice but she would have chosen it. She was one of us."
"One of us," she whispered.
"It is not your fault. You know this."
Dancer sniffed. "I have ceased believing you," he told the coffin, drily.
"For heaven's sake, Dancer," said King Rowan.
"How many more of these things am I going to be required to attend? The fool can't keep out of other people's business for five minutes, and death hasn't stopped him before. He'll never leave us alone."
"You keep telling the people that, Dance." Threnody crossed behind the coffin, running her hand along it without looking in it. She was wearing an oddly simple black dress, hanging thin and light from her shoulders, and its old-style sleeve trailed the casket like a whisper. There was almost a hush. A large Celtic cross dangled to her midriff, prominently silver and her only adornment. She stood a moment like that, fragile, calm.
"Ho ho," roared Finn MacFinn, "longer faces at a wake I never did see!" He plunked down the kegs he had been carrying under each arm. "Give me some whiskey, I'll raise ye the dead!"
"Let him be, Finn," said Deirdre.
"Hey," said Tila suddenly, "Threnody's wearing a dress!"
"You look lovely, m'dear," said Kieran, bowing. Tila gave him what would have been a respectable kidney punch, had he been solid. As it was her fist shot through his abdomen from behind. "Cor."
"Steady now," said Praxis.
"I was merely appreciatin', lass--"
A low, taut voice slit the air. "Keep your bloody great paws away from me, sure and it's a free country or have you forgotten it already?"
"Shit," muttered Deirdre, and threw back her whiskey.
"And I was just disapproving. It's not like I hurt you."
"Funerals and weddings." Inez shook her head. "When we got married Tila was so gone she was hitting on Zzenith."
"I was *not*," Tila hollered. Zzenith made several smily faces. Deirdre took Rowan's drink and took it at one swallow as a defiant little figure sprang flashing-eyed into the central clearing from a small scuffle, followed by a tired-looking man in Cynystran uniform. A bunch of yellow jonquils was clenched in one of her fists. "The same and more to you," she called with spirit, shaking her other fist back at an anonymous adversary, turned directly into Deirdre's slitted eyes and backed off instinctively, with a nervous smile. "Hello Dancer, how are you?"
Dancer gave the guard a drink. "My sympathies."
Threnody contemplated Alain's body quietly. "Good night," she finally said, "my friend," and stepped down from the dais.
Shannon nodded at her conspiratorially. "Ah," she said, "you loved him, did you not."
"Shannon," said Threnody, "believe me, you would not understand."
She bristled. "What's *that* supposed to mean?"
"It means you don't know the meaning of the word, Shannon," spat Deirdre.
"The hell you say!" Shannon turned on her in fury. "You'll not be tellin' *me* what I feel and dinna feel, Dee!"
"Maybe it's high time someone told it you."
"Easy," said Threnody, softly.
"That man and I are the business of two people," she said through her teeth, "and you're not one of them." The Cynystran whispered something to her and she hit him in the face with the back of her hand. "Will you be denyin' he loved me now? If a man canna have his own dear friends at his own bloody wake it's a sorry state to be sure."
"There is too much at stake to do this," said the Cynystran, louder.
"There is too much at stake not to," she barked at him, and turned ferociously back to the queen. "I've as much right here as any man."
"In your gay bright blue like a maid at the fair," she snarled.
Threnody spewed brandy. "She's gotcha there, Dee."
"What is this Dee? Dee?" She poured whiskey hostilely. "Rowan calls me Dee and my sister calls me Dee, you got that? My friends are dead."
"Deirdre," said Shannon piteously, reaching for her. "Is it not the place to make our peace?"
"This is a state affair and *you* are an exile under pain of death."
The Cynystran reacted, and Shannon flung herself hysterically onto the dais. "If it's wantin' to kill me you are you're bloody well goin' to have to kill me before the very coffin, that you are, you're bloody well--"
"Shut up, Shannon," said Threnody, pressing her temple.
"And were it not for the oaths on my order with my own two hands I would sure--" Deirdre leapt up after her, Shannon shrieked and darted around the casket, the Cynystran hollered something about an international incident and somebody slugged him, the crowd buzzed ominously, and then "Everyone SHUT UP!" roared Threnody, in a startling stentorian belt, standing like a white fury behind the coffin. Her eyes and the cross burned silver. Shannon and Deirdre retreated a few sobered steps on either side of her, and there was almost immediate shamed silence. "Shut up," said Threnody, softly. "Some people are trying to sleep."
Deirdre climbed down from the dais, holding her head in shaking hands, and Shannon followed slowly. "Nice lungs," said Luthien.
"I'm a pirate captain. This isn't the first drunken brawl I've had to shout down."
"I'm not drunk," said Shannon, nettled. "I've not had a drop."
"You don't need to."
She looked down. "Ah, Deirdre, can we not let bygones be bygones? You're the best friend I ever had."
"And I gave you what was dearest to me and you destroyed it."
"And it's back from the bloody dead it's come, lived as it pleased and died with no help of me. Deirdre! Will you not understand? I never meant to hurt you, I had no *choice*!"
"Bullshit," she said thickly.
"Damn *you*! What do you *care*, it's all over years ago and it's not even, I didna even, oh! Everythin' I did it *for*-- Deirdre!" She was crying by now, and heaved her jonquils blindly at the coffin. "Goddamn it to hell, Alain, where are you when I need you?"
"She means she failed," said Threnody. "He forgave her."
Shannon whirled on her triumphantly. "Threnody's a woman, *Threnody* understands!" She almost trembled with the energy of it. "He loved *you*."
Threnody watched the horizon. "Yes," she said, finally.
"Bitch." She collapsed to her seat, spent and shaking. Deirdre hiccupped, and Threnody began, quietly, to gather jonquils. "Women," said Dancer. "Children," Threnody shot back, and carried on.
"You did a fine job of it," Shannon said after a few moments, absently. "The revolution I mean."
"Thank you," said Dancer, sincerely. "You'll forgive me if I say it was in spite of you."
She spat. "From you I dinna want t'hear it, Dancer. You'd be nowhere without me."
"I have never underestimated your part in this, Shannon." He leaned against the dais wall and balanced the knife point on his index finger. "It was just a hell of a lurch you left me in at the end there."
"Well," she said. "I didna *mean* to. How was I to know you had a psychic?" He gave his lean half-shrug, and she smiled. "Ah, I wasna lookin' for nostalgia out of you, Dancer, your grudgin' respect will do nicely."
He flipped the dagger, caught it by its blade and pointed at her with the haft. "Let's get one thing straight, Shannon," he said. "I'm not a sentimental man. Alain was an idiot. Whatever it was you killed him for, he probably deserved it. But he had a soul. I can respect that. You are competent, Shannon, you are brilliant, and you do have balls, but I have never respected you and I never will. Do we understand each other?"
She curled her lip a little. "*You* don't know enough about passion to judge either of us, changeling."
"Then we shall agree to disdain each other. I thought we had settled on this some time ago."
"So much has changed," she said, quite over his shoulder.
"I don't bond at funerals." He slid the dagger back into its sheath and took his wine glass from the dais. "Incidentally, the sexuality between you and your girlfriends is remarkable."
"Let's not go there," said Threnody.
"Deirdre less than usual." He drank from the glass.
"Just 'cause *you* never get any, Dancer."
Threnody watched him. "Why'd you do it, Dancer?"
"You're going to have to be more specific, Miss. I've had an eventful life." His mouth perked.
"Alain's revolution. You used to say everyone had a motive. Dee did it for Alain; Shannon did it for Dee. Rowan was worried about the future of his children. They killed Declan's brother. You used to say everyone had a reason." He put the glass down. "What was your reason?"
"Does that really matter now?" he said, softly.
"Well actually," said Shannon, "it was a revenge element in there too, for me."
"No," said Threnody. "No, it doesn't matter." She put her hand over her mouth, a little dazed. "To think that all this time it was you."
"I *do* hope you're not going to accuse me of treason," he said, drily.
She shook her head. "Idealism," she said, barely audible.
Dancer turned around to face her and turned his wine glass upside down very deliberately, his eyes narrow on her. "Who are you?"
"I don't know." Her strange eyes were brimming. "I don't know." She moved off unevenly, steadying herself on the dais, holding her mouth. "She's a renegade demon lord," Shannon informed him helpfully. He ignored her and watched, and he gently, without looking at it, set the glass right-side up beside him.
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