DIVA: A Break from Tradition #3
deucexm at gmail.com
Sat Dec 26 18:26:02 PST 2020
I have another headache. This happens a lot recently, more often than not. But
it's also important to continue to work, so here is the last third - longer than
the other parts. It ends a little abruptly, but there is an epilogue to come!
A Break from Tradition: A DiVerse Alpha Chronicle
Part 3 of 3
"-up, please, please wake up, please-"
Her eyes opened, partially, and She made a most undecorous hiss as the light
seared into Her head. "I am- ah- awake, teacher," the Empress-to-be whispered,
as quietly as She could manage. "Please keep your voice down..."
"Oh, praise be," She heard him breathe out, and then felt his hands under Her
back, gently lifting. "We have little time now, even less than I thought. Are
you able to move?"
"I... think so..." She steadied Herself on one of the nearby cages, then took
one cautious step, wobbling a little - then another. "L-let us go. But- why is
it so bright...?" She dared to open Her eyes a little more. "The containers,
why are they shining so? Teacher, what is going on?"
"... milady, I confess I see no such thing. But-" In defiance of tradition, he
took Her hand, and led Her to the stairs. "I can only guess it is the
Freethought Core at work. Showing you... I- I don't know. Possibilities-
He is uncertain, and also very worried, the thought surfaced in Her mind,
unbidden. For you more than for himself.
"Calm yourself, please," She murmured. "Panic serves neither of us. Consider
instead our obstacles to a safe return."
"And here I thought I was the teacher," She heard him return with a slight smile
in his voice, tension defused for the moment. "Then: no one must see or hear us
leaving the treasury. The moment we step outside, we must once again be
flawless; Empress-to-be and teacher, without irregularity or concern. Questions
must be answered satisfactorily; they /will/ be asked."
"Wielding words as weapons, and as armor."
They swiftly climbed the stairs - as swiftly as the Empress-to-be could manage -
and at length stood before the exit. Eyes fully open now, She risked a glance
back; every container still gleamed with its own inner light.
But one had a single luminous thread extending from within; and when She
followed it with Her eyes, it faded out just next to Her hand. "A moment,
"As you wish, milady."
He is merely trying to calm himself with rituals, another thought spoke to Her.
Take no offense.
Exhaling quietly to relieve the tension She hadn't even been aware of, the
Empress-to-be followed the disappearing thread until She reached its origin, and
leaned over the case to observe the curious object inside. An oversize... fork?
A scepter, a weapon, perhaps? She couldn't possibly carry it back with Her,
even under Her robes. And yet... delicately, She pressed one hand to the glass.
'Calibrating,' a soft, inhuman voice whispered, as a small fountain of blue
light burst from the fork, lines expanding and spiraling around Her tightly.
She couldn't feel them, but She knew /something/ was happening. 'Calibration
complete,' the whisper continued after a few more moments, the tiny lines fading
from Her vision. 'Greetings, Mistress. I am ready to serve.'
"Who- what are you?"
'Designation: Manifold Device, type G-2. Informal designation not registered.
Would you like to register a new informal designation at this time?'
The Empress-to-be spared only a moment for thought. "We are short on time;
perhaps later. Can you tell me-" She spared another moment. "Is anyone
outside the door?"
'One moment.' This time, a curious bell-like tone emanated from the case,
slightly tinny, with a strange... warped sensation to it, one that made Her head
fuzz a little. 'Area clear,' the Device pronounced, with what almost sounded
like satisfaction. 'The way down is also clear. May I be of further
She had so many questions, and yet, no time! No time to satisfy Her desire to
learn, to know - "Only this," the Empress-to-be whispered, Her hand flat to the
glass once more. "Preserve yourself, and reveal yourself to no one else. For
when I ascend to the throne, I /will/ return for you; on this, you have my
'Acknowledged. I will await your return. Until we meet again, Mistress.'
The container's light grew dim in Her sight, and She hurried back to the door.
"Teacher, did you hear any of that?"
"Only what you said," he replied, tersely. "Are you well?"
"Well enough. I... have been assured there is no one outside, for the moment;
so let us be away and not let the window of opportunity close upon us."
He glanced at Her and nodded approvingly, then put a hand to the doorknob and
slowly pulled, the ancient hinges shrieking once more as a sliver of daylight
pierced the room. "How is this, then?" he whispered.
The Empress-to-be found it quite tolerable, in fact, compared to the already
brilliant light of the containers. "Manageable," She returned, sedately,
straightening up and preparing to face whatever challenges waited below.
Opening the door just wide enough for the two of them to leave, the teacher
slipped outside first, waiting for the Empress-to-be to emerge before easing the
door closed and locking it with his crimson key once more. A quick pass of his
hand, and the bird-shaped hairpin was safely nestled in his hair before he
raised the hood of his robe to hide it.
"Tell me, teacher," She inquired softly (for the winds had died down since their
earlier gusting), "what God do you serve? For the Imperial teachings claim no
deities exist, save for the royal family - and I cannot imagine you mean my late
"Indeed not," he returned, moving to the top of the stairs. "It profits not the
Empire, nor its custodians, to admit to the existence of a greater power; yet
whether acknowledged or not, that power is very, very real. For how long, I
cannot say; but long enough to guide me since I was a young man."
"Does your God have a name?" She persisted, descending the platforms close
He seemed hesitant, then: "Believe me when I tell you I speak the truth,
"He is called Hekel, God of Deception. Yet," the teacher added quickly, "it is
because of his guidance that I learned the importance - and power - of both
truth and falsehood." He let out a long sigh, without slowing his pace. "Would
that we could simply be honest with each other, yet the Empire denies us even
that simple courtesy. Tell me, milady, when we are questioned - will you be
truthful about what we have done? All of it?"
The Empress-to-be nodded. "... There is much to consider in what you say,
teacher," She returned, neutrally, though not without a slight smile.
And so the two descended the spiraling stairway in relative silence, both now
focused on their own individual concerns - the words to use, to avoid, to listen
for. As She turned the final corner, the Empress-to-be saw one of Her
attendants looking up at Her; the man turned quickly and motioned to the two
guardsmen waiting in the shadow of the main palace building, who approached with
purposeful strides, setting Her heart racing briefly before She forced Herself
back into serenity.
"You have been absent for some time now, Your Highness," one of the guardsmen
began in a low, suspicious voice - though every guard sounded that way, so the
Empress-to-be was unperturbed. "You even missed breakfast, and nearly
lunch-time as well."
She moved to stand slightly in front of Her teacher (as tradition demanded) and
bowed slightly - not too deep, for She was royalty, but not too shallowly, for
She had caused concern. "I have been receiving lessons from my teacher, at my
own selfish request, and he has ensured I have been in no danger. You have no
cause to worry."
"Hm." The guard turned his narrowed gaze to the teacher. "And what do /you/
have to say for yourself?"
The teacher bowed - much more deeply - before responding. "Her Highness desired
to see the land displayed upon the maps for herself, and today the weather was
most amenable for a view from the heights; it will not be so again for some
time, and by then She will doubtless be busy with preparations for Her
coronation. I thought it discourteous to refuse Her."
A prisoner in my own home, the Empress-to-be thought, with a mild tinge of
bitterness which She kept from reaching Her face. Though like all other
restrictions, it only shows when I step outside my carefully crafted
The other, younger guard peered at Her. "Is something the matter, Your
Highness? You look a bit pale."
The wheels turned rapidly in Her head. "I am... a little hungry," She admitted,
with proper hesitance, "but I was merely reflecting upon what I have learned
today." Slowly turning, She tilted Her head back to look up at the tower,
letting the hood of Her robe fall and taking a deep breath. "My curiosity has
been sated, and yet... the map in my chambers now seems such a dull and lifeless
thing, compared to the vibrant colors I saw from above."
"We can have the cartographers-"
"No," the Empress-to-be interrupted, cutting the guard off; then a little more
gently, "no, the cartographers are doubtless busy with work of their own; I
would not divert them from it. No, what I need is the eye of an /artist/.
Teacher," She continued, turning Her head to look at the motionless man, "you
have instructed a great many students before me, have you not? Were there any
artists of surpassing skill among them?"
He looked at Her - briefly, of course; but even in that moment Empress-to-be
could see the sparkle in the depths of his eyes. "I believe I could find one
such as you seek, Your Highness," he returned, "if it pleases you."
"It would please me greatly indeed," She returned, as calmly as She could
manage, "if you could find this artist and send them to the palace, so that I
may speak my desires to them personally. The sooner the better; for as you say,
I will have little time before my coronation."
The guardsmen said nothing; it was not their place to interject in a
conversation, though She could tell the older one was irritated in his silence,
even without the gentle whispers of the Freethought Core.
"Then this will likely be the last time we see each other."
She knew it was true even before he said it, yet the words were still like a
dagger piercing Her through. It took a great effort to not react; but She did
not. For She was the Empress-to-be, and soon, She would be Empress. If She
survived that long.
"I suspect it will. In that case-" She held Her hands at Her chest in the
Student's Form, right fist cupped in left palm, and bowed - a little more deeply
than perhaps She should have, but it was only right. "Thank you for everything,
He knelt before Her, inclining his head. "I am honored and privileged to have
been able to serve you, Your Highness. You have been a most excellent student,
and I doubt not that you will become an Empress of surpassing radiance."
A moment passed in silence, and then he stood. "Glory to the Empire."
"Glory to the Empire," the guards and attendant responded, reflexively.
The Empress-to-be fixed the younger guard with Her gaze. "Escort my... former
teacher to the outer gates, if you would. It would displease me if anything
should befall him."
The guardsman saluted crisply, and She watched Her teacher leave with a dull
ache in Her chest. Hopefully She had bought him some measure of time, at
"Your Highness," grumbled the remaining guard after a moment, eyeing Her again.
"What is it?" She returned, as evenly as She could manage.
The guard actually hesitated a moment, and the Freethought Core suddenly painted
upon Her vision with a twisting patchwork of possibility lines. Dangerous.
Encouraging? She held Her own silence, and merely arched one eyebrow.
"He didn't - you didn't go /inside/ the tower while you were up there, did you?"
The Empress-to-be sighed Her best wistful sigh. "I would have rather liked to,
I think... Alas, we had no way to enter; he was merely a teacher, after all,
and could not provide me a key."
The patchwork mess evaporated, save for a trio of threads. "Mm."
"Have you any further questions before I attend to lunch-time? I am /quite/
"No, Your Highness," the guard returned with the slightest hint of surliness,
before saluting and striding off to another part of the castle.
The Empress-to-be looked at Her attendant; the attendant bowed; and the two of
them went off to join the rest of the royal family for lunch.
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