The Compact ending the "Atlantis thing" prohibited Diluvian interference on Terra. But treaties are made to be broken and, from the beginning, some Diluvians meddled. Others were assigned to observe and, occasionally, report back.
Humanity on Terra burgeoned and developed. When the Internet was fed into the Diluvian Backbone, fascination with Terra grew. So did disgust at the planet's chaos and squalor. A debate raged. Should Terra be destroyed, saved, or left alone to self-destruct?
Then three ancient artifacts with the power to open the portals were stolen and taken to Terra. If they weren't returned, chaos would reign.
Adornments of Glory
The knife quivered in the tree trunk beside Windrover's head. He'd felt it go by, heard it hit and knew better than to move. She would be changing position and have another blade ready. If thrown, it wouldn't miss. As they said in Terran fiction, "The first shot is a warning."
"It's me, Feldspar." He should have known better than to pop in on his foster niece unannounced, but teleporting to a further spot and walking in wasn't as impressive. Planetsinger said vanity would be the death of him. At least sometimes she said that. Other times she said it would be his weight.
"Well, so it is. Okay Unc, you have my permission to faint." Feldspar's soft contralto came from his right. He'd been looking left. Yes, she was good.
"I wasn't scared."
"Liar. You also have my permission to move."
Windrover turned to face her. The grin was familiar but when she had left Capitol a year earlier she'd worn her woman's body like a nervous colt. Now she stood tall and confident, meeting his gaze with level eyes, deep and smouldering with a barely suppressed passion for life. It was a shame they had a familial relationship. He'd heard stories. Mind you, they weren't actually related. "You've become quite the beauty. Come here and give your old uncle a kiss."
She didn't walk. Rather, she flowed. Her aura was stronger than he remembered. She got closer, and Windrover shivered. Those familiar dark eyes held a glint he didn't like. She treated him to a half-smile. "I don't want to kiss you." She pulled the knife from the tree. It could have been buried in butter rather than oak for all the effort it took. "Skythane's right about you. Don't worry, he's not here right now." Her smile had gained her mother's sardonic edge... if you could call that a "gain".
"I wasn't worried."
"Liar. Again. As usual."
"It's just I don't approve of his approach to justice and don't want to get into that old argument today."
Feldspar wiped sap off her knife. "You're right. We should discuss something else. So, what's up, Unc?"
"Can't I visit my favourite foster-niece without having an ulterior motive?"
"No." She didn't meet his eyes, instead examining the knife as if looking for spots she'd missed. "You can't breathe without an ulterior motive, and you're not side tracking me into any of your disarming chat. If all you'd wanted to say was 'hi', you could have written. But I haven't heard from you since I left Capitol."
"I've been busy." He should have kept in touch. After all, she was the Prophesied and even without a seer's talent, he knew she'd play a pivotal role in the planet's future. He just hadn't expected it to happen so soon, hadn't thought he would need her until she was older. But things hadn't gone as scheduled. "How can your old uncle make amends?" he asked.
"He can't… you're not here as my uncle, Windrover. You're here as a manipulative politico presuming on a personal relationship."
"I'm not! I'm here on Adepts Five business… recruiting for a quest." Trepidation! He hadn't meant to broach that subject so soon. Damn Skythane. Since he and Feldspar had taken up with each other Feldspar had lost her innocence.
"Yeah, everyone knows that." Apparently satisfied with the state of the blade, Feldspar slipped her knife into its sheath. Still level, and now cold, her eyes met his.
"No, they don't… not everyone. Just teasing, uncle dear. Mind you, rumour has something serious is shaking Diluvia and it's not exactly like I'm isolated." She turned her back on him and started to walk away. His eyes were drawn to her tight leather breeches… such sweet cheeks, each would be a perfect handful.
She slowed, stopped and turned to face him again. She sighed. It did marvellous things to the fabric covering her breasts. A sad shake of her head. "Most people treat me like I'm an adult in more than body. I suppose I should know better than to expect the same from you." She unclipped her com-reader from her belt. "I told Skythane to make himself scarce because I expected you to show, and he's less forgiving than me." She pressed three pads and tossed the com-reader to him. "As you can see, Planetsinger contacted me yesterday with the news. Encrypted, of course."
Windrover caught the reader but didn't bother looking at its screen. "I'm surprised she didn't just use mind-touch."
Feldspar grinned. It was the old grin, hers as opposed to her mother's sneer. "I'm sure she would have, if she could. I've been working on my shields."
"Can you teach me?" Windrover hadn't known anyone could elude Planetsinger's mental reach for long. Other than behind the ancient shields which kept the Academy sacrosanct, he certainly never'd been able to hide from his on-and-off companion.
"I'll tell her you were asking. I'm sure she'll want to know why. By the Unknown, Unc, I've missed you and your scheming belly! Whatever people say about you, no one can call you dull--tiresome maybe, but never dull--care to join me for dinner? There's an excellent inn in the village. They make the best chocolate cake on Diluvia."
"You're forgiving me?"
"Like Planetsinger says, you are what you are."
"I shouldn't." The cake sounded good but he was on a diet. Planetsinger claimed to be as tired of him cheating on his diet as she was of him dallying with impressionable young women. "How powerful are your shields?"
"Not strong enough to include someone of your girth, but I can make the cake look like something more wholesome."
"Your illusions are that good now?" If so, and with her improved mind defences, maybe having her lead this quest might not be as hopeless as he'd feared. Certain people would be less than pleased to learn about Feldspar's developing power, assuming he told them.
"Your confidence in me is underwhelming. My illusions have been that good since I was six. I've always known neither you nor my equally loving mother deserves anything resembling the truth."
Windrover didn't like being lumped with Bethina, or having to consider Feldspar had never been as innocent as he'd thought. Had she been deceiving him all her life or was she lying now? Then again, did it matter? She'd put him off balance and there weren't many who could do that. Choosing this girl... this woman... to lead the most critical quest since the creation of Diluvia might not be as big a mistake as he'd feared when the cursed fairy stuck its oar in and cast a decisive vote in her favour.
The roast hare had been exquisite, the best ever. Windrover wanted another.
"No." Feldspar shook her head. "I promised you dessert but other than that you've had more than enough."
She sounded all too much like Planetsinger. And he hadn't voiced his desire. "Are you developing a talent for mind-reading as well?"
"No, as the dwarves say, I'm only human. But I know you and your appetites, Unc--like anyone doesn't. You're getting cake, as promised, you'll have to be content with that."
He could sneak back later for another hare, and maybe the luscious blonde serving wench who'd been giving him the eye. Women of all races were attracted to power. He watched his foster niece walk to the counter to get his treat. Only human? Was she? He hadn't believed it before, but speculation was Bethina broke the Compact by coercing some elf to father Feldspar, her much anticipated fifth child. Males were attracted to power too--what else would explain his fascination with Planetsinger after all these years?
And like her or not, Bethina was powerful. Of course, anyone who'd seen Feldspar with Maramatma on one of his rare visits knew he was indeed the girl's father; her sculpted features were his, as were the deceptively gentle brown eyes. And if Feldspar's complexion was caramel rather than blue-black, which was understandable given that Bethina was an icy blonde. No, it was the "only" part Windrover questioned. Feldspar was the Prophesied, and he was beginning to think her well-noted failure to live up to her billing just might be the ultimate proof of her abilities.
Feldspar came back to the table with what looked disgustingly like an oversized bowl of gruel.
"That's cake?" Even for gruel, it was disgusting.
"I keep my promises." Feldspar put the bowl down, picked up a knife and sliced the bowl in half. "There you go."
"No, this doesn't look the least bit suspicious." If this were indeed gruel, it would be all over the table. Everyone in the inn was smiling. If he didn't go along with the gag he'd look foolish. If he did, he'd look foolish and have satisfied his appetite for sweets, presuming Feldspar was telling him the truth about the cake. He picked up his half-bowl with both hands and took a bite out of the centre. Feldspar was right--the cake lived up to the hare. This inn was a true find.
But Planetsinger would find out he'd cheated. So what? He was tiring of her incessant demands he change. Windrover took another look at the robust wench behind the counter. More quality--those breasts begged to be fondled. She met his eyes, licked her lips and smiled. That decided it--might as well make this a clean break from the old nag.
"So, Mistral Brown Badger, you wish to take her away from me."
For all his bulk, Windrover could sure jump. Feldspar had seen Skythane coming, but from the smudge of cake on his face and the disturbed look in his eyes, Windrover hadn't. He'd always complained Skythane didn't show him the respect due the elf on Adepts Five. But why would he do any such thing? Skythane's mind-powers were greater than Windrover's, by far; if he'd wanted to be the elf Adept, he would be.
But Skythane had no interest in being tied to that duty, especially as it would put him in close contact with Bethina. Yes, that would be very uncomfortable, to be so close. Feldspar smiled at the thought. For some reason, her smile seemed to increase Windrover's discomfort. Maybe he thought she'd enjoy seeing the two of them fight... over her. She winked at her foster-uncle. Skythane had been teasing, but Windrover's sense of humour had gone missing. Mind you, Skythane had addressed him by his proper name rather than the more respectful appellation given to adepts. That was a declaration of at least equal status and therefore could be considered a challenge, should Windrover so choose.
"Cirrus Gold Kestrel." Windrover was on his feet. Feldspar could see a tremble in his stance but he was obviously prepared to do battle.
She couldn't let that happen. "Behave yourself, Windrover. Skythane wasn't serious."
Four surprised and annoyed eyes were suddenly on her rather than glaring at each other. That overweening prick! Skythane hadn't been joking. That meant he considered Feldspar a possession you would fight over rather than a person--no other interpretation was possible. Feldspar tried to keep anger from showing in her voice. "I'm leaving you no matter what, Skythane."
"You're leaving? Leaving me?" As if to say no one could possibly break off with a gold elf, especially him. One most certainly could!
"Nothing personal, but I think I need a period of chastity in order to grow." From their faces, neither elf understood. Until just now, Feldspar hadn't either. "I'm beginning to think you were drawn to me simply because I'm the Prophesied." They still didn't get it. Feldspar suspected her dilemma was similar to one common in Terran fiction when a rich person didn't know if a lover was attracted to them or to their money. But you could lose Terran money or give it away, and as long as she lived, she'd be the Prophesied.
"Who cares why we're drawn to you?" The rolls of Windrover's face bunched into puzzled wrinkles.
Skythane nodded agreement. Then a look of realisation appeared on his face as if, at last, he realised his error. Too late, prick-brain. "You know there's more to it than that, love."
"Oh, I most certainly do." Feldspar put a challenge into her eyes--back off, or else.
"So, Windrover, could you perhaps enlighten me as to the purpose of this quest?" Skythane asked. Good, he didn't want to make their private life public either. Feldspar breathed an unvoiced sigh of relief and turned her attention to Windrover. How much of his secret would he tell?
"Quest? What quest? Okay, so there is one, but I am ever so sorry, Skythane--even if that much has become known, Adepts Five would be in agreement that I shouldn't disclose anything more."
Adepts Five wouldn't agree on whether it was day or night if the sun was beating on their addled heads. If she didn't get this moving they could be here for hours. "Could the mysterious quest be anything to do with the theft of the Adornments of Glory?"
"Damn Planetsinger! How dare she?"
"She didn't. The quest is common knowledge and rumours of the theft were on the backbone an hour before you arrived," Feldspar said, patting her com-reader and smiling. "Anyone could put the two together."
"On the backbone? The whole planet knows? I have to return to Capitol immediately." Windrover jumped up from the table, reaching for Feldspar.
She slapped his hand. "Don't grab. You could lose a hand. I'll be with you in a moment." She stood and faced Skythane. "I hope you won't take this split too personally."
"Of course not. I understand completely." From his tone he didn't understand it at all.
Feldspar took the tall blonde elf into her arms, tilting her head slightly to be kissed. "Liar. That's okay. In time we'll forgive each other." Their lips met. Feldspar felt her own shudder meet Skythane's as the familiar body pressed closer. He might be a stupid prick, but he had a lively one. She was going to miss that big fellow more than she dared admit, even to herself.
Skythane broke it off and pulled his head back. "I will accompany you on your quest if you ask."
"I'm sorry, no." Feldspar stopped and looked at Windrover, who was looking at her. He'd said the same words she had, at the same time. She nodded her head slightly, deferring to him. She hadn't any idea what she'd been going to say and hoped he had a better reason than wanting distance.
"I'm sorry, Skythane, but one thing Adepts Five actually did agree on was that if she insisted on taking you, we'd find someone else."
"I'm that unpopular?"
"Nothing to do with you. The rules for quests forbid long-term bedmates from being in the same party. Conflict of interest and all that. I thought you'd know."
"I forgot." Skythane was as unconvincing a liar as Windrover. Always had been, now Feldspar thought of it. It had never been about her, Feldspar, and always about her, the Prophesied. And a few bed-tricks… or rather, more than a few.