Last week I posted a (partial) tension-reliever as to the fate of Bernard and Nebandalex after the first cliffhanger at the end of Shards; this week, it’s Mercy’s turn, after things … how shall I put it? … go less than well for her during her second run-in with the villain of the piece.
As before, major spoilers lie ahead!
When last we saw Mercy, she had fallen into the clutches of a small army of animated statues charged with protecting the Jewel in the Maul. The problem? Because of an enchantment placed on her by her enemy, they think she is the Maul. Ever wondered what it would be like to be a magical artifact that everyone is fighting over? Hint: It’s dull.
Mercy’s character was trapped in the ice cave, surrounded by enemies.
But no, that wasn’t right. That wasn’t right at all. Chilly as it was, the crypt below Korrin’s castle was not an ice cave; and Ambrosia the Sorceress was not a character in a game, to be directed on a screen. Mercy inhabited Ambrosia; Ambrosia inhabited her. And although she was surrounded, it didn’t seem correct to call them enemies. They were just statues, dumb stone, animated by an enchantment whose only objective was to prevent the Jewel in the Maul from leaving the crypt—which it had already done, borne away by the real enemy, who had left behind a glamour to fool the motive force behind the statues into thinking that the gem around Ambrosia’s neck was the one they were charged to protect.
The statue holding her wrist had lifted her off the ground, and now, as if it couldn’t tell the difference between Ambrosia and the jewel that she wore, it half-dragged, half-carried her across the chill floor toward the dog sarcophagus whence Kram had taken the Maul. The dog statue itself had become animated, but the old man had smashed it to get at the contents, depriving the carven creature of a body; its jaws opened and closed as if trying to bite or bark, and its one remaining leg scrabbled futilely on the slick floor, causing it to turn in a slow circle. She felt oddly disturbed by this, as if a real animal had been harmed. She wanted to fix it, but of course she couldn’t. Even if she knew a spell to repair a broken statue, she couldn’t cast it, couldn’t focus, and if she could have, she had bigger concerns at the moment than a shattered stone dog. In any case, the statue that held her didn’t care about its fallen fellow; it kicked the piece of dog-statue out of the way, evidently unaware the thing was even there, and then stopped, standing over the small tomb. It was the size of a smallish wicker chest that you might find at the foot of a bed, full of warm blankets meant for colder months. It really did contain the skeletal remains of a dog, and she wondered for a moment what esteemed canine this must have been, to rate a place here among Korrin’s ancestors. The bones seemed to be curled up next to a depression in the stone where the Maul must have rested before Kram had taken it.
The statue hauled her up onto the edge of the small crypt. She fell partly into the opening as its stony hands tried to stuff her inside, like it thought she was the Maul, and putting her in the box would satisfy its duty. She went limp, hoping it would let go of her once she was within the box. The stone felt icy cold against her back and sides, and the bones of the royal pet poked her in the hip. The other statues clustered around, sightless faces turned toward the sarcophagus, as if it were a bathtub and they had all come to make sure she scrubbed herself clean. Only the statues at the entrance hadn’t moved from their stations, and that was because they had turned sideways to block it. It seemed like a highly effective security system until she recalled how Kram had simply opened a portal and vanished through it.
She pulled her legs in as the statue reached for them, not wanting it to try to fold her up like a piece of paper. She fumbled with the chain around her neck, from which the gaudy stone depended. If she could remove it and leave it in the sarcophagus, the statues would lose interest in her. Maybe. But the thing refused to come off; although it wasn’t fused to her body, the harder she tried to pull it away from her chest, the more it resisted, until finally it tore itself out of her grasp and gently settled back into place. She couldn’t find a clasp to undo, either, and she couldn’t seem to slip the chain over her head, even though that was how she had put it on. It was as if half the links had vanished once the device was around her neck. Was it all Kram’s doing? She thought back to when Korrin had insisted she wear the jewel, how he had seemed relieved when she put it on. After that, she hadn’t been able to concentrate enough to manage a single glamour. Was that a coincidence?
Suddenly she realized that while she’d been attempting to remove the necklace, the statues had been reassembling the shattered lid, passing the fragments like a bucket brigade, piecing them together with the unerring precision of a jigsaw puzzle expert. They were having much more success than she was. As each shard was added to the others, the seams rippled and vanished. The broken dog statue had become whole again, and paced around the sarcophagus with canine impatience, waiting for its bed to be completed. They were going to seal her up in here, just like the Maul had been. They were going to entomb her in here.
She tried to raise her arms, to take hold of the sides of the tomb and pull herself up, but couldn’t seem to lift them out of the stone box. They felt the same way the jewel had when she had tried to remove it; the higher she raised them, the stronger the pull became to return them to the box. It must all be part of the protective enchantment on the receptacle. Items placed in it wanted nothing more than to stay in it, afflicted with a sort of magical inertia. Maybe that was why she couldn’t get the necklace off.
Exhausted from struggling, she collapsed back into the cold embrace of the stone. Would it be so bad to be shut up in this marble cavity? To go to sleep in the cool darkness and never wake up? Maybe she would dream forever. Maybe, in that dream, she would be running across green meadows with the dog whose bones shared the space, free of pain and fear and doubt. Maybe Bernard would be there. Maybe—
No. No! That was the enchantment on this box, insinuating itself into her thoughts, its influence more than physical. Whatever was in the tomb belonged in the tomb, and should not be removed, be it the Maul, the dog’s bones, or herself. If he hadn’t possessed the Illata, she thought, Kram would never have been able to extract his prize from its resting place. But he had possessed it. She had given it to him.
The statues had finished assembling the cover. How long had it taken for them to find all the fragments? She had no idea. Time seemed to have become thick, like syrup, slow and viscous. The statue of the canine sat expectantly, stone tail slashing scratches across the floor, as the guardians moved the lid back into place. She shrank away from it, fully occupying the space beneath, to avoid having fingers or toes crushed. It didn’t look that heavy, but the weight of stone could be deceptive. The cover settled into place. She was alone in the cool darkness, a buried treasure, curled up to cuddle canid bones.
She heard stone clacking against stone as the carved representative of the dog jumped back into position, turned a few times, and lay down as if to sleep.
Next week, one more spoiler. Why does the villain want the powerful gems so badly? To put them on a shelf and look at them? To take over the world? To win Wimbledon? No, no, and … maybe. I mean no. Tune in next week to find out!