This story is a sequel to Entropy. If you haven't read that, you should read it first.
I could not have been more surprised than I was at seeing Elizabeth wandering around the camp in confusion. This was the last possible place I would ever have expected to see her, and she was the last person I would ever have expected to see here. The first thought that ran through my head was that she was here to kill me in revenge for killing her husband. I squashed the thought instantly. Elizabeth was not a vengeful person, and even if she hated me now, we’d grown up together and been best friends for most of our lives.
To my surprise, it did not seem that she hated me. She spun around in fear when I tapped her on the shoulder, but at seeing it was me her expression of worry changed to one of delight. “Lazulia!” she cried, embracing me. “I can’t tell you how I’ve missed you!”
I wondered if she’d gotten my letter at all. Even if she hadn’t, someone would have told her. But if she knew… at best, she’d somehow manage to forgive me, eventually. More likely, she’d hate me forever.
“I’ve missed you too,” I told her. I wasn’t sure how to ask whether she knew. Luckily, I didn’t have to.
“I got your letter,” she told me. “I’m afraid you mixed up your congratulations and condolences.”
“What do you mean?”
“Is there somewhere more private where we can talk?” Because we were standing in the middle of the crowded camp with beings of every possible description going about their business around us. I’m sure it intimidated Elizabeth; even I’d been intimidated when I arrived.
I led her along a path down the cliffs to the beach. It wasn’t empty, of course; the docks were full of pirates and other mariners, and there were merpeople in the sea, and here, as everywhere around the camp, huge black butterflies flew overhead. There were a few beings on the rocky beach, but the rock Elizabeth and I sat on was far enough to allow private conversation.
We were both unsure of what to say. Finally, Elizabeth told me, “I tried to write to you, but I just ended up crumpling up all my attempts. I suppose some things are better told in person. So I kept wanting to come here to visit you, but I couldn’t work up the courage.”
“I guess you did, eventually.”
She shook her head. “No, it wasn’t courage but fear that brought me here. I’ll get to that later, though.”
“What did you mean, about me mixing up congratulations and condolences?”
“You sent me your condolences on the death of my husband. You would have been better served by sending congratulations on his death, and condolences on the marriage in the first place.”
“You weren’t happy with him?”
“No. Oh, I wish you had been able to tell me what happened with him, the day you left. I suppose I wouldn’t have listened anyway. I know I wouldn’t have. Caldow was quite good-looking, you remember. So I went home that day babbling about how I’d met… gods, I believe I actually used the phrase ‘the man of my dreams.’ Lazulia, I was shocked to hear you say you’d been a fool; no, the fool was always me.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “Or at most we were both fools.”
“I don’t know. Your dream ended up coming true, didn’t it?”
“In a rather twisted way, but yes,” I admitted. “Isn’t that funny? My dream was impossible, and it came true, and yours was almost guaranteed, and… well, you sound like it didn’t.”
“I don’t know if it didn’t come true, or if it was just the wrong dream. Anyway, upon hearing that Caldow was a man of suitable rank, wealth, and profession, my father called upon him the next day and arranged the match. I was overjoyed. We had a beautiful wedding, and then he had to leave on campaign right afterwards. I missed him, or the idea of him, but I liked living in his huge manor and being wealthy. It wasn’t until he came back that… well, that things went wrong.”
She paused, so I asked gently, “He was abusive?”
“Yeah. He was away a lot, but when he wasn’t… it was bad. And then after….” After what? I wondered when she broke off that chain of thought, but I didn’t interrupt. “I… I don’t want to admit it, but I… hoped he wouldn’t come back. Every time he left. And then finally he didn’t. And when they told me it was you who’d killed him... it was like you were protecting me from him, even from a distance, even without knowing any of it.”
I had to laugh. “When I found out he was your husband, I felt like I’d betrayed you.”
“That’s how everyone else back home feels, and assume I feel.” She looked around absently, then focused on a large black shape just over our heads. “You know these are omens of doom and destruction?”
“We’re the forces of chaos. We like doom and destruction.”
Elizabeth laughed, then asked, “Really?”
“No. But they seem to like it here, and they seem to fit, somehow. And they don’t hurt anything.”
“I suppose, but they seem so… ominous.”
“Like I said, they fit in here. They follow us in battle, even. Quite spooky for the enemy, I’m sure.”
“I can imagine. Weird, spooky things do fit in here, I guess.”
“Oh, thanks,” I pretended to be insulted.
“It’s just so… you described it in your letter, but actually seeing it… and then I was trying to find you, wandering around between all those strange, terrifying people.”
“They can be overwhelming, but most of them aren’t really like that when you get to know them.”
“I know. It’s just… I doubt I could ever fit in here.”
“Any more than I could back in civilization.”
“I know,” Elizabeth said sadly. “I was just hoping… I don’t know where to go. I know this must make me a horrible friend, ignoring you until I needed you, but Lazulia, I really need your help.”
“Anything,” I promised.
“I inherited Caldow’s money, quite a lot of it. His family dislikes and mistrusts me, and is quite unhappy with the arrangement. And now they have my daughter and will try to use her to manipulate me.”
My jaw dropped. “Your daughter?”
“Emily. She’s three.”
She had been going to say, “And then after Emily was born,” I realized. But the thought was overshadowed by the fact that Elizabeth was a mother. She’d had a baby. Elizabeth had had a baby. I could still remember when we were three years old, and now she had a daughter that age.
And she’d been taken from her mother and was being used as a pawn.
“What are we going to do?” I asked her.
“I don’t know! I hoped you could think of a plan, you’re the one whose good at tactics and strategy and all that. Caldow’s father is the highest placed, richest man in town; the law won’t help me against him.”
“I know you’re didn’t come to me for the law to help you, Elizabeth. Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a plan. Tell me more about where they have her.”
“Well, they live in the big mansion on the hill… you know which one I’m talking about?”
“The one that’s exactly the opposite of a haunted house?”
“Yes! I’d forgotten about that. From what I’ve been able to find out, she’s there being taken care of by the servants. Taken care of well, not mistreated or anything, but she’s my daughter!”
“The best thing,” I mused, “would be to sneak in and grab her. Is she under guard?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’d assume she would be. And the house would certainly be guarded. Damn not being good at invisibility. I’ll have to get help, I think, if that’s all right with you.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then the other question is what you’ll do once you have her. They don’t sound like the type of folks to give up so easily.”
“No. I was thinking maybe I could come here, but now that I’m here… this isn’t the place for me.”
“We’ll rescue Emily, and the two of you can come back here and stay while you figure out what to do next. Right now, let’s go find Tewlan. And maybe one of the Starthans, it would be useful to have someone less than six inches tall… but on second thought, probably more trouble than it’s worth. So Tewlan it is.”
“Who,” I heard the unspoken, And what?, “ is Tewlan?”
“He’s a friend of mine, and he can go so invisible you can’t even see him.”
“Um, isn’t that what invisible means?” Elizabeth asked as we walked back up the cliffs.
“Sure, but it’s really, really hard. Most people can’t get that invisible, at least not in bright light. See, this is the best I can do,” I went invisible, which, for me, only meant that my color faded to a sort of translucent version. “But I’m really bad at it.”
“About your friend… is he human?”
“As far as I know.”
We found Tewlan bent over an injured kitten, for he specializes in using his magic for healing, and heals humanoids and other animals without discriminating. Once he’d finished with the kitten, I made the introductions.
“Lazulia has said so much about you. It’s great to finally meet you,” Tewlan said to Elizabeth.
“You too. I mean, I haven’t talked to Lazulia for years so she hasn’t said much about you, but it’s great to meet you too.” Elizabeth blushed.
I raised a mental eyebrow. Elizabeth and Tewlan? That would be an interesting couple… though they’d be good for each other, I thought. And they were both my friends…. Wouldn’t that be interesting.
I explained the problem, and the plan, or as much of a plan as there was, and asked Tewlan if he was in. “I’d be happy to help you,” he told Elizabeth.
We rode to Elizabeth’s town, the town I’d grown up in. It was strange being back. Things were the same, except where they were different, small differences, but that only made it stranger. The house next door to the house I’d grown up in had been green, and now was blue. A tree Elizabeth and I had sat in had been chopped down. And of course, I was so very different from when I’d left.
We snuck up to the manor house Emily was being kept in. The plan was for Tewlan and Elizabeth to sneak in, invisible, and bring Emily out, while I made a diversion. I am good at creating diversions; you might say it’s one of my specialties.
We separated, and I went around to the front of the house, hid in a bush, and started making banshee-like screams. When someone popped out of the house to see what was going on, I started a fire. It was floating in the air, so it’s not like it would have caused any damage, but it seemed to upset people pretty well anyway. The person who’d first came out of the house—on closer inspection I could see it was a butler—went back in and came out with more people who ran around in a panic. They tried to swat at the fire with cloths to put it out, but it was higher than they could reach. At that point I summoned a whole swarm of the huge black butterflies. This freaked the people out even more, and soon there was a whole great crowd of frantic people, most of whom had come out of the mansion, though a few had been walking by. I directed the butterflies in great swirling dances. The people, except for me, were not entertained.
Finally, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked around to see nothing behind me. “Is that you?” I whispered.
“Yes,” I heard Tewlan and Elizabeth’s voices.
“Do you have Emily?”
“Can you make me invisible, so we can get out of here?”
A pause, during which Tewlan must have been nodding or shaking his head, then, “Nope. Even three people is taxing, I couldn’t do four. Just wait, they’ll go away eventually.”
“It might help if you put the fire out and got rid of the butterflies,” Elizabeth suggested.
I put out the fire and sent the butterflies back to where they’d come from, and soon enough, the people disappeared back into the house. We snuck away, then ran as quickly as we could to where we’d left the horses, and rode away.
Tewlan had dropped the invisibility while we were riding, and now I had the chance to look at Emily. She was adorable, and looked just as Elizabeth had at that age. She didn’t freak out at being taken away on horseback as Elizabeth would have though,
She liked the camp as well. Its bright colors and interesting people provided endless amusement for her, and there were a few other children around her age who she quickly became friends with. Elizabeth grew more comfortable with the camp than she had been, thanks partly to her daughter’s influence and partly to Tewlan.
Elizabeth and Emily stayed at the camp for a few weeks. Then they stayed for a few more weeks. And then a few more. Eventually, everyone realized they weren’t going anywhere. A little bit later, Elizabeth realized it and announced that they were staying. She told me it wasn’t because of Tewlan, but Elizabeth had always been a bad liar.