Zeal stopped looking out of the window. Lore wasn't coming home, despite Clash's efforts.
"Do you want me to go to the Palace for him?" Clash said, from the study door.
"No. He'll come when he's ready." Zeal sat by the fire. "I expected Comet home before now. It's getting dark."
"Did he say where he was going?" Clash poured wine for himself and Zeal.
"No." Zeal presumed Comet was going to contact The Web but she had no idea how he'd do that. "I hope he's OK."
"He's a good man, mother." Clash said and Zeal went as red as her hair.
"Yes he is." Zeal stood up and walked back to the window. "Your father and I need to sort ..." She pushed the drape further back. "Clash?" Clash went to look too.
"Too much wine, not enough sense." Clash said. "I'll go and set him on his way." He went to remove the drunkard from the front path. Zeal watched him shake the pile of rags, then he shouted something. Clash stood up and began waving frantically. Zeal immediately ran to the front door.
"Clash! What's wrong?" She grabbed a lantern from the front porch.
"Mother it's ..."
"Comet" Zeal screamed when she saw Comet's battered and bloody face. "Oh merciful gods." She knelt on the path and lifted Comet's head into her lap. "Comet! Comet can you hear me? Please wake up." She sobbed.
"We have to get him indoors. Sacred shit." Clash lifted Comet, then saw his father standing there in shock. "Oh great."
"Lore it's Comet! He's had an accident." Zeal cried hysterically.
"He's been beaten." Clash corrected, carrying Comet indoors.
"Zeal we need to talk." Lore said.
"I have to go to Comet." Zeal ran into the house and the study and knelt by the couch where Comet was unconscious.
"Zeal! I'll get you another Tender. We need to talk." Lore shouted.
"Lore just ... just ... piss off." Zeal said in tears. "Comet needs me."
"It's a matter of priorities." Clash shrugged and Lore stormed out of the house.
"He's a mess Clash." Zeal's tears mingled with Comet's blood. "He's bleeding inside and he has broken bones. My Comet." She sobbed uncontrollably.
"Can you fix him? Stuff the legalities. They won't touch you, they wouldn't dare." Clash knelt next to Zeal.
"I ... I need my Comet. I need a healthy Comet." Zeal screwed her eyes shut. "I need the bleeding inside to stop. The wound has to scab." She held Comet's hands. "I need fire to seal the wound closed. I can't do it!"
"You can! Mother you have to try. Listen to me. You were part of it all, remember? You have touched Fire and Air. Remember mother, you know what they feel like." Clash said urgently.
"I can see it! Clash I ... I ... have it! Brother Fire let me use you. Please help me save him!" Sharp flashes pulsated from Zeal's hands, into Comet's body. "Stay back Clash. By the stars that hurts like a bitch. Shit."
"It's working!" Clash said in complete awe. "Sacred shit! Keep going, mother." Zeal's whole body shook and burned as Comet's internal wounds were seared over. She jolted and sobbed when Air joined Fire to cool down his insides.
"Clash. Cl ... ugh." Zeal turned her head and vomited violently into the fire grate.
"Ew! He's going to live. Mother you did it! He's going to live!" Clash was utterly astounded.
"Almost." Zeal panted and wiped the sweat from her eyes. "I don't know how you men cope with that. This is much better." Clash watched in amazement as Comet's broken arm and leg, straightened with a crunch, then clicked into place. "Earth." Zeal smiled weakly. "And a good old wash with Water to cleanse everything." The colour flushed back into Comet's cheeks, under the blood and grime.
"I don't believe what I've just seen." Clash was overwhelmed.
"What a blast eh?" Zeal swayed on the spot so Clash steered her into a chair. "Clash, look!" She pointed at Comet.
"I know. It's fantastic. He doesn't have a mark on him." Clash marvelled.
"No! Look at the forces! Clash they're singing!" Zeal laughed in joy. "They're swirling around and singing! Clash they're alive!"
"I wish I could see it." Clash looked, but only saw Comet.
"I do too. You have no magic, Clash. I looked." Zeal said sadly.
"Oh well. What do you expect with Lore as my father?" Clash smiled. "Is this why you came back? To make the forces sing?"
"I believe so. More than that though. They were dying, Clash. They tried to manage for years with just Fire and Air, after the Queen forbade female wizards. After she banned it completely, they began to die. We'd have lost them completely." Zeal walked back over to Comet. "I don't think Comet was meant to be part of the plan."
"You think not? This is twice you've used magic, against the law, for love. The forces must know what a soft lot you are." Clash smiled. "Come on, you must rest."
"I'm OK. I'll stay with him." Zeal nodded.
"You'll do as you're told." Clash rolled his eyes. "I'll stay with Comet, don't worry."
"Wake me if he wakes up?"
"Certainly. Come on, away with you." Clash shoo'd his mother out of the room.
Ruby Galeraven stood in a warehouse, surrounded by dust and shadows.
"You haven't been sent for." Said a voice.
"No but I'm here. Shadow will see me."
"As you wish." Ruby waited until Violet Veil appeared through the gloom.
"Shadow is busy, Ruby."
"So am I. Where is he?" Ruby asked evenly.
"Yes I know the way." Ruby pushed her way past Violet and made her way down the tunnel.
Shadow emerged from the drapes as Ruby entered the circular room.
"I don't like you being here." Shadow whispered from his hood.
"I don't like being here. You had Comet beaten? Beaten and left to crawl through the streets? How could you!" Ruby exclaimed.
"Quite easily. I want Zeal Dawnstar to show me the extent of her power, and she seems to have a soft spot for Comet. Probably her bed."
"He's your brother, Brand!" Ruby shouted.
"And his loyalty is quite admirable. He's doing all this for me anyway." Brand pushed back his hood and rubbed his fingers through his thin, blonde hair. "I'm dying, you old crow! You couldn't even give birth properly. Do you honestly think Comet's little trip to Tegrid is going to help? Of course not. Zeal Dawnstar's command over magic, however, is a different matter."
"Brand, the money left to me by your father is what put you here. I sold every inch of land to give you all this. I've turned my back on Comet to hide the tears, every single time he brought in a few coins for his savings for you. I maintained your secret, double life at the expense of my other son. Please Brand, for me, let him be. Find another way to get to Lady Zeal." Ruby said desperately.
"You miserable old witch!" Brand snarled. "You have the gall to speak to me about your maternal misery? You chose to put me here. You chose to ignore Comet. You chose to serve me as the most lucrative option."
"I did, and I bitterly regret it. I lost Comet's love long ago and I never had yours. I have nothing now. Comet doesn't deserve this. I'll return your books and accounts by the end of the week." Ruby hung her head.
"You do that, mother. Get out." Shadow pulled the hood back over his eyes. Ruby left under the escort of two guards. "Vittie!" He summoned a very rough looking man. "Find out what day the merchants' guild deposit the money they've embezzled, with Ruby. Once the payment is in, kill her and clear the place. Understood?"
"Yes Shadow." Vittie grinned viciously.
"Oh and if Comet survives, make sure he gets to know about it."
Comet woke up and yawned. He sat up and frowned at Clash, who was asleep in the chair. He wondered why he was sleeping in the lounge, then he saw the state of his clothes. Memories came flooding back and he realised that Zeal must have healed him. He stood up and tested out a few limbs.
"Sacred shit. Zeal you are magnificent."
"Of course she is. She's my mother." Clash got stiffly out of the chair.
"She did this? All of this?" Comet said in disbelief.
"She did." Clash gave Comet a full account of what he'd seen with his own eyes.
"I have to see her." Comet said.
"Oh no you don't. Sit down, Comet." Clash pointed at the couch.
"Clash I have ..."
"You can see her later. She's resting. Now why would Mittin, the serving girl, tell Delph, the cook, that you were beaten by The Web?" Clash scowled and looked exactly like his father. "Don't even think about trying to shit me, Comet. I'll replicate those injuries, and add a few more."
"Clash it's ... complicated." Comet sighed wearily.
"A complication in my life? Oh woe! I'll never cope! Listen to me. Usually, a man's business is his own, Web connections included. Half of Entia has ties with it, for shit's sake. Having said that, they really aren't nice people, are they? They could beat up a dozen people a day as far as I'm concerned. I don't care. However, I do care about my mother. If you're mixed up in any shit, then you stay away. You vanish and you don't come back." Clash was sitting forward in his chair and was deadly serious.
"She knows." Comet hung his head in shame. "Zeal knows everything, Clash, I swear she does."
"Oh? Well that's a start. How about letting me know too?" Clash told rather than asked. Comet had little choice but to tell him everything. He didn't even attempt to play down his own, deceitful part in it, he told it all as it was.
"So Shadow had me beat up to see if Zeal would heal me. She has." Comet finished gloomily. "I sincerely hope that you don't think I'm still using any of you. I'm not. I wouldn't blame you for not trusting me though. I'm sorry."
"Well I can understand how my mother would forgive you." Clash nodded.
"I don't deserve it, I know." Comet said miserably.
"Oh stop wallowing in self pity, for shit's sake. Who's to say what you do or don't deserve unless they've been there? Anyhow, I doubt any deceit would extend to having yourself beaten half to death. So what will Shadow do when he sees you healed?" Clash asked.
"He'll want to know how. I tried to tell him. I tried to explain to him that she was limited to what she could use. I think he wanted to see for himself." Comet exhaled loudly.
"Does he realise that it's innate? It can't be taught or learned. Does he know he'll never be able to use magic himself, if it's not already there? Not even the Queen could order that one." Clash said.
"He won't need to if he has someone to do it for him. Yes he is insane, before you ask. All he needs is Zeal to ... activate ... a mage to do his bidding. He wants to live forever." Comet said in dejection. "No one wants an army of underground mages, what a terrible thought. I'll never hand her over, Clash."
"He has your brother." Clash reminded him.
"I'll think of something. I have to string Shadow along until I can get Brand out of there. We'll go to Tegrid. I'll walk all the way and carry him if I need to."
"If that need arises then the expenses are covered." Clash clasped Comet's shoulder. "You know, Shadow is just a man, afterall. We aren't exactly ordinary riff-raff either, are we? Mother is ... is ... awesome, and I'm a royal Councillor."
"And I'm a pickpocket from the slum quarter. Yes!" Comet rolled his eyes.
"I know, you peasant." Clash heaved. "Having knowledge of The Web isn't useful at all. Duh! Go and get cleaned up. You can't see my mother like that. You're a disgrace." Comet smiled and left the room feeling, once again, overwhelmingly humbled by the Dawnstars and their understanding and decency.
The following morning, Clash engaged the services of Captain Hunter Bane and five soldiers to stay with Zeal and Comet. This was for protection, but also for attention. Shadow wanted to see a result, so they were going to make sure he did just that.
"I was a a loss what to do." Hunter said as he accompanied Clash back to the house. "I heard the gossip and came out here to see for myself. I found nothing unusual and no one had reported a beating. I put it down to exaggeration or mistaken identity."
"Well he wasn't as bad as he looked." Clash said casually. "Obviously I can't have such thuggery looming over my mother and her Tender, hence your presence."
"Of course. I regret not assigning a guard sooner." Hunter said.
"No one's at fault Hunter. If I thought it necessary, I'd have requested a guard myself. Do you hear music?" Clash looked towards the house.
"The lute, if I'm not mistaken." Hunter nodded.
"The cook plays he lute. Excuse me please." Clash found Delph playing the instrument, and Zeal and Comet dancing and laughing. "You'll be fit and healthy then?" He smiled at Comet.
"Clash!" Zeal ran at her son and hugged him. "Comet is an excellent dancer!"
"So I see. Come on, Twinkle Toes. Barracks first, then the Palace."
Comet's healthy and unabused appearance confused the population a great deal. Had he been beaten? Perhaps it was someone else? Had Lady Zeal healed him? Were his injuries so severe? Lore knew the truth, he'd seen it.
"So Zeal. You're intent on causing trouble at every turn." He said as they sat in the Palace hallway. "You're purposely fueling a rift, and I'm in the middle of it."
"With respect, Lore, I did no such thing. You all caused your own rifts." Zeal replied.
"They're all saying you're in revolt against the Queen. Did you know that?" Lore said accusingly.
"Once they see I'm not, they'll soon find something else to talk about." Zeal shrugged.
"They'll still see Clash." Lore snapped.
"Me? What about me?"
"Aligning with your mother as a lash out to the Queen? Yes? The Queen who's reconsidering you as a heir? Grow up, Clash." Lore snorted.
"That is utter bilge." Clash said wearily. "I'd fed up to my eyeballs of hearing this. I am not lashing out at anyone, let alone the Queen of Entia. We have to stop all this. Can't you see that? People are getting hurt, father! The Courts are in uproar and Comet was attacked! It's all because of baseless mistrust and lack of communication. There's no need for such a high level of suspicion."
"He was beaten by The Web." Lore nodded at Comet. "The Web deal out beatings as warnings, they always have. It's a warning to you Zeal. You aren't wanted here."
"Yes she is." Comet spoke up. "The Web also deal out beatings as a show of power. They're telling you that that they're very much in touch with the situation. The Courts have informal ties with The Web. Maybe you should get on the same page and let them know you still have the last say."
"Rather impudent for a Tender, aren't you?" Lore Snarled at Comet. "Also rather stupid. Do you think anyone would take on The Web?"
"They don't want a fight. They want you to stop bickering and pay attention. You run Entia and they profit from it." Comet replied.
"And where's the profit for you, Comet?" Lore lowered his voice to a growl. "According to Serai, it's in my bed with my wife."
"How dare you!" Zeal landed a stinging slap on Lore's face. "So you refuse to talk to me, but you're willing to degrade me infront of my son and Captain Bane? You spineless shit! Don't you dare raise your hand to me, Lore Dawnstar! I intend reclaiming every single coin you've ever made from my name, and that includes the damned bed! Stay here where you belong!" Zeal spun on her heel and marched from the Palace. Clash grit his teeth and followed her, dragging Hunter with him.
"That was a very cruel thing to do, Lord Dawnstar." Comet said quietly.
"Bedding another man's wife is none too fitting either." Lore snapped.
"Just because you do it on a grander scale, doesn't make it any different." Comet said nastily. "She was prepared to come to some discrete arrangement over this mess. She accepted that you have your own life here and that you've built it over twenty years. If she can understand that, despite it being so sudden for her, why can't you? Well you won't get the chance now. Keep your royal status and favour, Lore. Maybe one day you'll know what you've lost." Comet turned and left the Palace after the others. He saw Zeal's red hair in the crowd, and quickened his pace to catch up. A flash of purple caught his eye and he groaned out loud.
"Violet, not now. Whatever it is, not now." Comet said testily.
"You should have reported to Shadow." Violet said quietly.
"To demonstrate the results of his experiment? I'm sure you'll tell him." Comet sneered.
"He doesn't want me to tell him."
"Look, Violet, no matter what you say, I'm not running to Shadow at this very second. I can't tell you any more than I did yesterday." Comet said flatly.
"He asked me to remind you that you're under obligation." Violet said. "Apart from that, if your position was made known to the Dawnstars, I'm sure they'd demand a few answers from you. Even if there is a place in the realm that you could hide from them, Shadow would help them find you."
"Finished?" Comet planted his fists on his hips.
"Almost. Brand?" Violet raised her eyebrows.
"Unless I see proof that my brother is still alive, before tomorrow nightfall, I'll consider my contract with Shadow terminated and take my chances with Zeal and Clash." Comet stated.
"You're a fool, Comet. You can't dictate terms to Shadow. No one can. He owns you and he owns me." Violet spat.
"Why can't you understand? Why can't you see where I am? I cannot pass on further information because there is none! Shadow's convinced I'm holding back and there's nothing I can do to convince him otherwise. He cannot do what Zeal did, nor can anyone else. Are you getting the message, Violet? He can't do it and he can't have it done to him because it's impossible!" Comet tried to keep his voice down. "I want a sealed message from Brand telling me the whereabouts of the tin spears. Brand will know what that means." He gave Violet a long, challenging look, then set off to catch up with Zeal.
Hunter felt shocked and disgusted at Lord Dawnstar's behaviour. No matter how complicated ones domestic life got, it shouldn't be aired in public at the expense of one woman in otherwise male company. He also felt very overwhelmed to be included in the company as he sat in the Dawnstar's study with Zeal, Clash and Comet, the latter being of rather more importance that Hunter presumed. Zeal was a credit to herself and her strong will, as she sat tight-faced but tear and hysterics- free. Clash was annoyed, fed up, and exasperated. Comet was in a subdued rage over just about everything.
"Would you like me to leave, Duke Dawnstar?" Hunter asked awkwardly.
"I doubt you'll hear anything you've not already heard, or worked out." Clash said. "Mother?"
"Hunter's fine. You're welcome here, Captain Bane." Zeal replied curtly.
"OK mother, out with it. You're as tight as a drum and it's making me edgy."
"I don't know what you mean." Zeal said stiffly.
"Fair enough. I can't even remember what he said." Clash said casually. Zeal inflated a full two inches and glared horribly at him.
"How dare he! The great horse's arse!" Zeal erupted, Clash nodded, Comet sniggered and Hunter flinched. "Why did he think a lecture on propriety from him was a good idea? I don't need an overinflated shit-heap like him drawing attention to my ... my ... stuff ... in public. Has he been the epitome of virtue? Has he knackers! Oh it's OK for him to strut his junk while I was away for twenty years in ethereal form! Does he think that was fun? Does he? Ethereal forms have no sense of fun, they just don't get it. Yes well he can go and boil his balls. My house, my stuff, my son and my ... Comet. Arse to him." Zeal folded her arms and glared at the fire.
"Well said, Zeal." Comet grinned.
"Too true." Zeal nodded.
"OK. So I'll go ..."
"And if that lot lurking about up Fogg Mountain think they can please themselves then they have another think coming." Zeal butted in and Clash shut up and rubbed his eyes. "Bunch of bloody losers. If that spineless cretin wants a lesson on immortality then I'll give him one. Step one, you aren't immortal! Zap! Ouch! Does it hurt?"
"Yes mother." Clash grimaced. "I'll go and find out ..."
"And what's the Queen doing? Apart from knobbing my husband, sitting on her pampered arse and listening to gossip? She spends all day long listening to that other addle-headed nut case ... thinggy ... oh what's his face ..."
"Captain Baron?" Hunter helped, warily.
"That's him! What is his problem? Is it because I'm a girl? Is he trying to make a point? I'm a General. I'll order him to go sweep up leaves in the Harshlands. Arse. Saying my Clash is sulking because Queen Maneater won't let him on the throne. Pfft! As though it's all that, eh?"
"Well it is all that, mother. It's the throne of Entia." Clash said, trying to fend off his headache. "But you're right! Who wants all the drama eh? It's a silly job. Now then, I need to be up ..."
"Maybe you should have stayed at the Palace, Clash. We need to know what's going on."
"That's a splendid idea, mother. I'll get right onto it." Clash exhaled loudly and Comet was useless with laughter. "Do grow up, Comet."
"Yes son. Have fun." Comet smirked and Clash gave him a dirty look. "I don't think we're going out again today, Hunter." Comet indicated himself and Zeal. "May we send for you if we need to?"
"Absolutely." Hunter nodded.
"Right!" Clash stated. "I'll go and fire Serai on my way out."
"I'll do it!" Zeal stood up.
"How does 'no' grab you? I meant fire as in remove her from her job. Settle down, mother." Clash pointed to the chair, then left.
"No fun in him." Zeal sniffed. "Hunter I'm sorry you were exposed to all this. It must have been awkward and embarrassing for you."
"Me? No, not at all." Hunter lied.
"Bulls nuts." Zeal smiled. "I'll go and catch Clash. I want his word that he's not going to fight with Lore. Excuse me." Hunter bobbed a bow and Zeal left.
"Despite Lore's bellowing, don't let anyone speak ill of her, Hunter." Comet said. "I deserve the title 'little shit', she doesn't."
"Not so long ago the title suited you, Galeraven." Hunter said and Comet started to laugh. "I've had you in that cell more times than I've changed my uniform!"
"That did puzzle me. Obviously you knew I wasn't from the Infirmary. why didn't you speak up?" Comet asked.
"I can only think of one way a toerag like you would be appointed to Lady Zeal. Web business. All I could do was to make sure you weren't physically harming her. I couldn't speak up, Comet. I have children." Hunter said and Comet understood. "Luckily, and miraculously, Lance Baron didn't recognise you. He only has his mother and he'd sell her for a few coins, if she wasn't already doing so herself."
"I understand about your children, Hunter. You don't think I came here as a spy of my own accord, did you? Shadow has Brand."
"Ah yes. I did suspect that. I'm sorry Comet, truly." Hunter sympathised. "He's insane. It's all insane! You and Lady Zeal?" He shook his head in disbelief and made Come laugh. "You little toad. You'll be wanting your name on the statue next. Anyway I must get going. My men are on patrol so just get word to me if necessary."
"Thank you for everything, Hunter." Comet let the captain out of the house. He was just about to close the front door when he heard Zeal.
"Oh you and everyone else, sister. It's not the first time I've seen you sniffing around. You're not seeing him, he's busy." Comet walked round the side of the house to investigate. "Don't make me take this broom to you."
"Oh shit!" Zeal and her broom were standing inches from Violet Veil. "Zeal! Zeal it's OK. Lower the broom, woman." He laughed. Violet grit her teeth and handed Comet a sealed note. She glanced at Zeal hen left quickly.
"Yes you'd better run. Bloody trollop. What's it say?" Zeal leant on the broom.
"Three rocks after Blue Bolder." Comet smiled sadly. "Location of legendary treasure known to only me and Brand. Two tin swords made from scrap metal from the hooper's yard. We were going to go and retrieve it when we were sixteen and grown up, then conquer Entia."
"Oh I see! Er ... sorry. I thought she was a floozy." Zeal grimaced and made Comet laugh. "Comet we have to get him out of there. We have to face it, I'm going to have to meet Shadow myself."
"People don't meet Shadow, Zeal. People are absorbed by Shadow." Comet lead Zeal back into the house. "If he releases Brand then someone else will take his place. Delph? Mittin? Hunter Bane's children? He's like a poisonous sponge that takes, takes, takes and gives nothing in return. Our advantage is that he doesn't know about us, Zeal. He doesn't know that you know everything, and that you've forgiven me. It's only a matter of time though, mainly thanks to Lore."
"Fat mouthed idiot." Zeal spat.
"It will give Shadow something to think about though. I was given this job because I'm good at gaining peoples' affections. Yes I know how arrogant that sounds. I'm a little toad. Charisma, Zeal, and we have trough loads between us." Comet smiled.
"But where does that leave Brand?" Zeal asked.
"With time because I'll still have Shadow's interest." Comet said. "I'm sorry Lore humiliated you like that. I felt so useless. Under any other circumstances, I'd have beaten him out of the city for that."
"It takes a better man not to do that. You're not useless." Zeal put her arms round Comet.
"So you thought Miss Veil was giving me the eye, did you?" Comet teased.
"Well it was hard to tell seeing as they pointed in different directions." Zeal sniffed. "She has magic, by the way."
"What?" Comet let go of Zeal. "Violet Veil is a mage?"
"No. She has the potential to become a mage if someone makes her aware of it. So does Hunter Bane."
"Good gods. I just can't imagine someone like Hunter using magic." Comet said in shock.
"He would have at one time." Zeal smiled and flicked her hand towards the coal bucket. It began to rattle, then coals began jumping out of it. Comet laughed in delight as the coals piled up and formed themselves into the figure of a man. Zeal made him dance and the forces sing. The coal man spun upstairs with Zeal and into the bedroom, the forces swirling all around them. Eventually, the little man took a seat by the door and Zeal and Comet sat laughing on the bed.
"He's not going to copy you all night is he?" Comet asked doubtfully.
"No he'll just sit there until I pay attention to him again." Zeal smiled.
"I'm sorry, my little rock friend, you can wait your turn." Comet blew out the lamp.
Dawnstar Of Entia