Mourning of Doves

Amanda blinked and stared at Cady. "You have a problem," she said slowly, wiping her palms on her dirty pants. "You think you know best and you have a right to shove that on people. And you have really crappy timing. I asked Toby about it and I'm pretty sure he didn't lie to me, especially now. You dump this Derek guy for Braiden in front of everyone. And now you decide to force me to talk about this in front of you - who Toby dislikes - and Braiden - who Toby loathes. What about that was a good idea? Maybe I should have been honest with Toby, but damn it, Cady! This was the worst time and place to do it!"

The princess snapped her mouth shut and shook her head, trying to keep back any more of her angry words. She was shaken, and just a little afraid. "And by the way," she said to Braiden, an after thought. "We really were racing. I know better than to run when I'm up to no good. We were racing. Because it was fun. And he didn't use magic to cheat and beat me." Her look told him that she knew how they had gotten here so fast and wasn't impressed.

Ruve looked at Jasper quizzically, not sure why he was choosing such an odd point about which to quibble. But then, she supposed she understood where he was coming from. She wasn't working for the Lady either.

"Ah," she cleared her throat slightly, "I would like to include Jasper then." She didn't have any good reason for wanting him there, but somehow she felt safer with him as backup. Odd as it seemed, given his tendency to hide behind her, but she somehow felt as though he'd keep her grounded - so she didn't somehow play into the Lady's hands. The thought might be a false security, but it might not.

"Excellent," the Lady said, starting down the hallway. Jasper couldn't help but feel smug as he fell in place beside Ruve, thinking that the conversation was off to an excellent start. And they were getting away from Ruve's stuffy ol' prison. After they were done with the tall scary she-bitch, he'd bundle Ruve off into a bath and scour her study while she was occupied. Wasn't healthy, breathin' in all that mold. As a skulker, he should know.

Following the Lady, they stepped out onto a tall balcony. Tall snowy mountains rose up around them, the Tower itself perched precariously on one such slope. By Jasper's guess, the structure went into the mountain itself. Only way possible for it to be so large, especially at the base.

Though the wind swept past them, carrying flecks of snow in a swirling gush, it broke and moved over an invisible shield. The balcony was quite warm. Even a gracefully thin decorative arch on the top was warm to his touch and he frowned, noticing that it seemed to be carved from the same stone.

"There once was a time when this Tower would not be unusual," the Lady said, breaking the stillness. "My people ruled, shaping the world as we saw fit. You've read enough of my journals to know this, I believe. Have you gotten to how it went wrong, yet? Or are you still in our greatness?" She sounded bitter, putting sarcasm on the wrong words. Had she ever thought the Empire great? It was hard for Jasper to say, but he was getting used to coming into a conversation midstream and pretending like he'd survived the previous rapids. He'd figure out what she was talkin' about, just when he figured out what she was.

Ruve smiled slightly, shaking her head slowly. It was truly wondrous, this knowledge, and yet she was deeply glad she hadn't been alive during the time of the Authmoth. Of course she wouldn't have been anything like herself then, given that the Authmoth themselves were the Tasaoth ancestors. "Nothing in here resembles my own people's histories, so I can only assume we're not even near the end of the empire yet," she thought aloud. "But the demons may be the beginning of the end." She was talking as if she was still immersed in the story, and in truth she was. She knew, vaguely, how it would end, and certainly the Lady had known when she wrote her memoirs, but it still felt like Ruve was discovering something new every time she read a page.

Suddenly she looked at the Lady with a frown, and then back at Jasper. She'd almost forgotten he was there, lost in thought as she was. It seemed odd that the Lady was willing to openly discuss 'her people' in front of anyone else, since she had bade Ruve tell no one what she was. Which Ruve, faithfully, still hadn't disclosed to any of her friends. She wondered if she now needed to phrase all her words carefully to preserve the Lady's secret, and suppressed an inward sigh. She hoped not. She was so tired of half-truths and secrecy.

"Oh, my dear. The beginning of the end was far before the demons attacked Tira, far before the gods began to dismantle the Empire, and long, long before the golden-eyed man was born." She sighed, sounding old and leaned against the banister. It was built for her, coming to Jasper's chin, but was perfect for her height. It didn't intimidate him. Not even a little.

"The start of our particular fall was when we used the Words to change ourselves further than we should. Immortality changes you, Ruvria. Deeply. Fundamentally. But that is neither here nor there. You've met him, yes? The slave I brought into my house. The one who was the linchpin?"

So, she had decided to be open after all. Ruve was actually quite shocked, and perhaps slightly miffed that she had so jealously guarded a secret the Lady seemingly had no qualms throwing about - especially with someone who so openly rejected the mere idea of working for her. Hardly someone she ought to trust. And yet if Ruve had been free to tell her friends the truth, there had been times it would have been very useful knowledge for them.

No matter. The Lady was choosing to tell all, and despite Jasper's presence Ruve was eager to enter into discussion about - well, everything. This was the kind of thing she lived for. Especially if it was relevant to Sam's problem, and the way the Lady was talking now, Ruve had a hunch it was.

"Yes, I'm beginning to think - at least, the description seemed like...we call him Tobias, the man who loves Sam and has been taken by the prince of demons. It did seem to me he might be this person you mention in the journals."

"That would be he," the Lady said, sounding quite smug. Jasper frowned, studying her. Both of the women had golden eyes. Well, Ruve's were a dusty gold, with small flecks of hazel and, if studied carefully, a ring of slightly darker amber around the edges. Not that he had looked. But he was paid to notice things. Not that he was being paid.

The Lady just had bright yellow gold, vividly so, like someone had taken a polishing cloth to them and given 'em a good rubbin'. Did everyone have freaky eyes these days, and he just hadn't noticed?

"You'll forgive me if I don't weep, but that man has more enemies than you can count. I, myself, am not fond of him. But, I understand you and Sam are and that, believe it or not, matters. And, if you want to get him back, you are going to have to learn his Truename. Do you know what I mean when I say that?"

Jasper said without thinking. His back stiffened when she turned those eyes on him and he swallowed loudly. "But I guess, guy like that, he'd have more than one name. So, ya gotta get his birth name. Not a problem. I know guys down in the Jamian archives - relatives of yours?" His chin tilted, waited for the surprise. Yeah, she hadn't thought he had worked out the connection to the southern Empire? Well, he was no dummy.

'sides, how many empires could there be?

Ruve frowned at Jasper, then realized he hadn't even begun to piece together what they were talking about. Hadn't they already discussed Words and what Ruve could do with them?

"No," Ruve said, shaking her head slowly. "I'm afraid that's not what the Lady meant." Then she paused. On further thought, it might be best not to enlighten him to Ruve's Authmoth heritage and the rest. On the chance that the Lady still wanted it secret and was merely relying on Jasper's ignorance, Ruve thought she'd better not risk overstepping her bounds. She was protecting Jasper, really. The less he knew, the safer he was. Probably.

"Perhaps," she hesitated, feeling a bit like she was betraying her friend and hoping he wouldn't take it the wrong way, "perhaps we should continue this discussion alone after all. I don't want to -" she swallowed a little. How on earth to phrase this? "I don't know if you really want this knowledge, Jasper. It might be dangerous." At least he wouldn't necessarily take the term 'dangerous' as a personal challenge. He was more of the self-preservation type.

Jasper squared his shoulders and faced her, studied her face. She was serious and he recognized the tone. Ruve wanted to protect him, which made him feel warm all over for some reason. His fingers twitched habitually as he thought about her offer. Knowledge was dangerous, that much she had the right of, but so was ignorance. Sure, he'd gotten burned for knowing too much, but he'd also gotten hit for knowing too little.

And Ruve was up to her pretty eyeballs in the whole affair, which was really the deal clincher. "I ain't a fool," he said, lowering his voice. "Yeah, I might be a coward, but not where my mates are involved. You're in this, Ruve. Well, so am I."

Ruve looked up at the Lady then, wishing she wouldn't be so ambiguous about the whole thing. She couldn't even begin to fathom the Authmoth's mind. It bothered her, but she would just have to put it aside for now. They were getting somewhere with the conversation, somewhere important. "Truenames are the Words that make up the core of a person," she said to Jasper, only so he wouldn't try to throw Jameo in again and confuse the issue. She turned toward the Lady, and thought furiously. "I think I know what you mean, perhaps. Tobias's Truename...ah. I imagine it is no longer truly his, now that he belongs to the demon. So how to separate Tobias, and the truename that he had before, from that of the demon prince? This is what you mean, is it not? Only..." she wasn't sure how that applied to what she had learned in the Lady's journals. "I feel I am missing something," she admitted.

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