Day 5, and I'm already 1000 words behind on my personal word count goal (well, it's better than -2000, which is where I was yesterday). At least someone finally did something evil in my novel! Woo hoo!
Then (7 years ago)
Snowbell Valley (The southern ridge)
On the rocks on the opposite wall of the valley, another set of eyes watched the wedding festivities.
Prince Senge. Lurking discreetly a few lengths behind him, a handful of men in royal livery waited for their master. However many hours it took, they were accustomed to such duties.
Only after dusk had overtaken them did the Prince turn away from the cliff's edge. His eyes hid fury behind a rigidly calm face. "Damn her. Who does she think she is? What is she? A nobody born out of a nameless hell. Nothing at all."
His guards knew better than to react. One and all, they stood blankly to attention.
Senge surveyed them, laughed shortly. "Come on, then. Time to go home."
The royal palace in Kalapa:
Home held little welcome for the Prince.
Senge was soon summoned to his mother's chambers. He gathered his resolve and obeyed, knowing that he was likely in for another tongue-lashing. He had been due back at the palace days ago, and had missed any number of ceremonial duties, mostly concerned with appeasing the guardian spirits of the royal palace. Even though his years under Achamo's tutelege had left him with little awe of the spirits, the others at court were less sanguine at the prospect of causing offense to the unseen.
Her quarters were in the same wing as his own, and it was only a short walk along the verandas lining the buildings of the palace to reach the Queen. Senge left his guards outside her door and passed through the antechamber to the richly furnished inner room, where the Queen of Shambhala sat crosslegged on her bed. Gauzy drapes hung from the bedframe, hiding the Queen's features behind the rippling phoenix stitched onto the cloth.
"Senge greets his mother the queen," said the Prince.
"Back at last," snorted his mother. "What kept you?"
"I had...other business," said Senge.
"Ha! Pining after that little apprentice sister of yours again?" His mother sat up straighter. Senge could feel her eyes boring into his thoughts. He had long ago learned to shield his mind from her prying, but the very act of shielding betrayed him. "So! It's true, then. What is wrong with you, my son?"
Senge had no answer. What could he say to that? "Your son begs forgiveness for his error."
"Forgiveness? Is that the best you can do?" The curtains parted and the Queen lifted herself out of the bed. "Let me look at you. So. I spend a fortune and all my heart's blood convincing that old hag to teach you, because she's the best, because she's the most respected, retired or not..."
"Your son is grateful," said Senge, dropping his gaze to the carpet. A mistake. The carpet was woven with designs that compelled submission and truth. His tongue slipped and the words fell out, "But she is the past. The future, my future, is with Nyima..."
"That demonic whore!" *THWACK*! His mother slapped him brutally across the mouth. "Don't speak her name ever again in my presence. I sent you there to learn, not to play at love!"
Senge felt the blood drain from his face. He touched his lips, feeling the sting of her slap, his fingers trembling with fury. Closing his eyes, he said with forced calm, "Your son is no longer a child. Please trust that you have taught him to judge his own path."
"I see. You think you don't need me anymore, is that it?" The queen paced a slow circle around him. "Ungrateful brat! You think you'd be here today if it weren't for all I've done for you?"
"Yes, Mother. And a fine job you've done of pruning the tree." Senge paused to lend weight to his next words. "And what would the king my father think if he knew why his junior wives all fail to produce any healthy heirs?"
The queen stopped. Her voice came straight into his right ear. "What's this? Now you think you can threaten me?"
"I think you can't stop me," said Senge with deliberate rudeness. A thought glittered at the bottom of his mind. It was an old thought, but this time he let it rise to the surface rather than trying to bury it. Yes. Perhaps it was time. He opened his eyes and looked coldly at his mother. "So please. Just leave me alone."
"Alone! I should have left you alone when you were but a sickly infant and borne a more filial son. Tell the king! Then we'll both be shorter by a head. He has plenty of years in him yet to bring up a..." Her words faded in silence. She raised a bejewelled hand to touch her lips in question.
/Enough, Mother./ Senge needed no sound when he had already tuned himself to the beat of her blood. Without warning, he struck straight at her face with his right hand.
The queen's response was instant. She needed no forewarning to block him with the edge of her own arm.
Then Senge's left hand struck, and this time his mother was too slow, too weak, to deflect him. He jabbed once, twice, at the acupoints below her collarbone, left and right, drilling her with enough energy to paralyze her for twenty minutes or more. Plenty of time. With a twisted smile, the prince eased his mother into a sitting position on her bed.
/You see, Mother, I did learn from the old woman. But she is a short-sighted fool and afraid of true power. I am not. That, Mother, you taught me./ Senge drew from inside his robe a glass vial, no bigger than the palm of his hand, filled with a thick red liquid. With his other hand, he held a syringe. He began muttering, the sound swallowed by the silence, but the pattern of the rolling chant hung in the air between mother and son.
He filled the syringe. The queen's eyes pleaded with him, cursed him, but her body was helpless to move.
/Power,/ said Senge. /Isn't that what you schemed for me? But you were mistaken about who would be the puppet and who would pull the strings./
The needle plunged through layers of royal brocade, through skin, and into her side beneath her ribs. Fluid seeped in, diffused through her body.
/We are of one blood,/ said Senge, his eyes avid for the final consummation. He focused his thoughts on the incantation, threaded his thoughts through blood.
The queen began to tremble. Her inner energy flared in chaotic waves, resisted the taming influence of Senge's spell, burst through her sealed acupoints. The tremble became a violent shuddering. All her limbs spasmed uncontrollably, and her head tilted back, the cords of her neck drawn tight, and her mouth opened in a voiceless shriek.
/No!/ Senge struggled to maintain control, but the pattern of his incantation dissolved. The threads of his power tangled, broken and clotted. He groped for the remaining pieces, but the ends were beyond his reach.
The queen's head flopped forward, an abrupt and unnatural motion. Then, without lifting it, her head shook back and forth, faster and faster. Her hands rose, clawed off her golden hairpiece, scattered pins like darts.
Senge staggered back, blocking most of the pins, but one of them drew a line of blood under his left eye. Worse, he had lost his attunement with the blood he had injected. If she recovered... she would never forgive him. She, too, was preserved by her arts, and had time to bear another child.
All or nothing. It was too late to take back his gamble. Senge drew the dagger from his belt. In this frenzy, she had no defense. He calculated his aim with cold care. One strike, under the bone and into the heart. Decision made, he moved forward...
...to find his wrists seized by impossibly long strands of hair. More hair lashed out, curled around his neck. They were tightening, tightening, choking his cry of shock. Hair cut into his skin, denied him breath, denied him blood. Senge couldn't move. Every hair was thick with power. He couldn't break free. His own energy was fatally disrupted.
He was lost. His mother was going to kill him. Literally. He wanted to laugh, at how badly he had failed. He wanted to beg for mercy.
But he stared into eyes blind with madness, immune to any appeal.
Darkness blurred his vision. The world receded.
And then the doors opened. A confusion of feet and arms, shouts and flashing blades, prayer beads and ribbons, all burst into the queen's chamber in a cloud of incense.
Someone pulled the queen away from him, cut him free of the strangling hair.
Senge gasped for breath, massaged his wrists, ignoring the questions pelted at him by the guards. Then he remembered, and groped behind him. Lucky. He had fallen on the evidence of his misdeeds. He slipped the empty syringe and vial into his sleeve while waving a distracting hand towards the window. "A demon! We..." He coughed, gathering his wits. "We were attacked. In the queen's own chamber... how is my mother the queen?"
He straightened. One of his guards moved quickly to support him.
"She is taken by some fit. She does not hear us," said the guard.
Senge peered over towards the queen's bed, forcing his eyes to focus. Two more of the guards restrained his mother, while a gaggle of her attendents entreated her to peace. He couldn't see her face: her head was canted forward, rolling against her chest, while straggles of hair still writhed and lashed at the empty air. "She was possessed. I strove to expel the demon, but...its power was too great for me."
The queen howled a spine-shattering cry. It went on and on.
Unable to endure the wordless accusation, Senge struggled to his feet and with the help of his guard, hobbled towards the door. "Quick! Where is Lord Pema? Why isn't he here already?"
Lord Pema was the King's Demon-Hunter.
He was also incompetent, uneasy in his office, and addicted to /masidi/ powder. The queen knew of his addiction and helped him conceal it from the king. He owed them. He would not dare challenge Senge's version of events.
Lord Pema was on his way into the queen's wing of the palace when Senge met him. All due credit to the demon-hunter's young apprentice's long ears.
"Lord Pema!" shouted Senge. "You are late. The queen my mother is in dire need, and due to your negligence. A demon slipped through your net and attacked her."
Spirits wailed soft protests that only Senge, Pema, and the apprentice had any inkling of.
"I d-d-didn't know, your highness," stammered Lord Pema. He was a small man, as emaciated as any wandering monk, and cringed when the prince loomed over him. "The spirits beg a thousand pardons, but they...the demon must have slipped through. They promise it will not happen again."
"See that it doesn't!" snapped Senge.
They returned to the queen's chamber to find the royal physician there as well, sitting by the queen and frowning over her pulse.
"How is she?" asked Senge from the doorway.
Lord Pema hurried inside, lighting sticks of demon-repelling incense and mumbling prayers, while ordering his assistant to stick thin sheets of holy scriptures on all the windows.
The royal physician shook his head. He gave Senge a grave look. "I fear...I fear for her mind."
"And her recovery?"
The royal physician shook his head again, looking even graver. "I can promise nothing."
Senge bit back hysterical glee. /Good/, he didn't say. Feeling his legs weak and shaky in delayed reaction, he retreated to a chair from which he could maintain both distance and an appearance of concern. He /was/ concerned. Why hadn't it worked? He had tested the procedure on goats, pigs, and a handful of beggars until he had perfected it. Then he realized: none of them had any training in internal energy techniques, whereas his mother was an adept. Of course she had been able to resist, and the resulting conflict had burned out her mind.
Senge sighed inwardly. He would have to think about it. Find a way to overcome any resistance. Next time...
Next time he wouldn't fail.