We are Zenobia, carrying the memory of every Queen Zenobia since Kalanthia was nothing but a rich, arable land everyone invaded. We remember when we turned on our conquerors, seizing their lands in turn. Country after country fell to our might and our guile. We remember riding at the head of our army upon an elephant, a tiger, and a werewolf. We remember when we were structured and segregated according to gender and how our Empire split apart when fractious men and angry women decided they couldn’t live together. They formed their own nations, the lands which would be known as Aethyria and Graeca. We remember when a shivering minion of the Serpent threw herself at our feet, begging for our aid against her master. We gave it, offering not only Kalanthia’s might, but Kalanthia’s wisdom. We supplied Xian with the chains with which the Serpent and Her brood could be bound. We learned it was wise not to trust in the gratitude of the Serpent’s treacherous students. For Xian betrayed us, taking the chains, declaring herself Imperatrix of a united alliance of queens. Hah, more like an empire this alliance is. Xian now calls herself Serena Jasior, gorging herself on stolen life and power. Fool. Far better to live just one mortal lifetime, carrying the memories of the past to the next generation. We will show ‘Serena’ the folly of her ways. We shall take her beautiful barbarian brother as our consort, in spite of this ridiculous challenge Serena indulges him in. We will chain the pretty puppet Serena grooms to be her brother’s consort as our slave. We will take Serena’s empire as our own, allowing Kalanthia to rise from its ashes, becoming great once more. We shall rule supreme and no one shall stop us. Not this time. For we are the apex of civilization and no lesser queendom, or even an empire of queendoms can stand against us.
Everyone calls me Yuri. My full name is Yuri Cross. Yes, I’m descended from the artist, Judith Cross. It’s hard to make a name that’s truly yours when you’re associated with someone else. Take Westerleigh. He stared at me like I was a demigod when he realized I was related to the lover of his beloved Elizabeth Hartford. Now I find myself compelled as artist to somehow outdo Judith’s portrait of Elizabeth, the ones with the eyes that seem to follow you wherever you go. A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words, the arrogance in those painted green eyes speak volumes about the true character of Westeleigh’s idol. Perhaps I’ll do a sketch that shows the true heart of Elizabeth Hartford. More likely it’ll be the dark, formless fears she inspiries with her haughty gaze, trying to take some sort of shape. I’m sure she used people without even considering the consequences to them as a result of her plots. I fear what proximity to her portrait may do to Westerleigh. I already feel like I offered him up like a virgin sacrifice, dressing him in white lace like a gothich heroine, and sending him off to the haunted house. Westerleigh wanted so badly to go. I still feel like I made a horrible mistake, helping him to go to Hartford Hall. It almost seems like Elizabeth is haunting me, taunting me for that error in judgment. I can see her face pressed against my window pane at night. There’s something different about her, an almost hungry desperation. It reminds me too much of Westerleigh’s obsessive need to learn more about Elizabeth, to be closer to her in any way he can. Well, there’s only one way for me to banish this ghost of guilt. Get out my sketch book and start drawing.
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Phaedra and Pausania will pick up where they left off last week in A Symposium in Space…this is a little longer than six sentences, forgive me! (apologetic bow) I didn’t feel like this would make sense otherwise…
“Next you’ll be calling life givers women.”
“Huh?” I opened and closed my mouth. “Why would I call women life givers?”
“You may call it a lack of galactic sensibility. I call it a charming display of innocence.” The orb throbbed in midair, quivering with hungry intensity. “Pausania, I simply must have the two of you at my symposium.”
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Once we were called Xian. We were the apprentice of the Serpent Herself, one of the greatest sorceresses to transcend the mortal flesh, becoming so much more than simply immortal. Only She went too far, transforming into a creature so vast and hungry, She threatened to swallow everything and everyone. We did what we had to to stop her. We seized the power with which we could stop Her, become Serena Jasior, Imperatriz over an alliance of fractious and prickly queendoms. We convinced the stubborn and intractible Zenobia of Kalanthia and others like her to support us. Zenobia turned out to be surprisingly useful. How foolish of our former master of have antagonized her before squeezing her dry of her secrets. Well, we shall accomplish that instead. After all, it is the duty of every dedicated student to surpass her teacher. We’ve already taken steps towards that in defeating Nevalyn and forging alliances. Nor do we intend to stop there. The Serpent lives on through Her brood, Her blood. We’ve already adopted Stephen as a Jasior, made him our brother. Now we have the chains Zenobia gave us, chains which are the key to enslaving all the golden-haired Serpent-Born descendants of Nevalyn. They bind those human-looking creatures’ power, allowing us to use Nevalyn’s power ourselves. We shall hunt them all down with the assistance of the Order of the Dragon, who wish to regain the fragment of the Serpent Nevalyn broke off and made part of Herself. We shall get the better of our former former master along with Zenobia, through the very bindings she gifted us with. Only we can’t bring ourselves to put them on Stephen, our little brother. Call it a moment of foolish sentimentality, but we shall use gentler means to bind and hold him. Stephen is offering himself as a prize, willing to give his hand in marriage to whomever can beat him in the magic circle. We have agreed to this in A Suitor’s Challenge. We’re well aware that only another Serpent-Born can defeat him. We’ll make certain the slave collar is around the victor’s neck when she does so.
Good day. I am Westerleigh Hartford, one of the few, proud descendants of Elizabeth Hartford. All of my life, I’ve studied, worshipped, and looked up to the ancestor wh was a scholar, sorceress, who carried off being a most unladylike lady with pride and presence. She became my ideal, the focus of my own studies. Now I have an opportunity I’ve been waiting for my entire life. Fiona Hartford, another of Elizabeth’s descendants and my own distant cousin has invited me to Hartford Hall. This is a chance to wander the rooms Elizabeth once lived in, to read the papers written by Elizabeth herself, and see the original portrait of Elizabeth by Judith Cross hanging within view of the grand stairway. There are just three problems with this opportunity. One, Fiona thinks I’m a girl. It’s clear from her letter she’s expecting and welcoming a female cousin. Second, my beloved Yuri Cross, a direct descendant of Elizabeth’s Judith Cross has a bad feeling about this offer, even though Yuri is willing to help me disguise myself as a girl to get access to the Hartford Hall. I’ve learned to trust Yuri’s instincts. Thirdly, reality seldom lives up to my dreams. Elizabeth, the object of my hero worship, is no exception. I’ll discover this in A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words. For Elizabeth had dark secrets, which lingered on after her death. Yuri and I are about to find ourselves caught in the middle of them.
Avert your eyes, peasants, for I am not simply a lady. I am an arachnocrat and an Ashelocke, the first and foremost in Arachnia, Mystere. Or I shall be, once Duessa is out of my way. Our link to the Spider and guardian of mists which protect us has gone soft. Soft and hypocritical. All that talk, urging other ladies to be willing to sacrifice their brothers, sons, and nephews, so our sisters, daughters, and nieces would always have a haven away from the corruption and decadence of men. Duessa herself has become the most corrupt and decadent of the lot. Her daughter and heir, Melyssa, is a weak pervert, possessing all of her mother’s flaws. Mel is simply too unschooled to hide them. Duessa may conceal her weaknessness, but they’re revealing themselves over time. Does she not lavish knowledge and affection upon Damian, a mere male? It would be another matter if she simply took him as her Marriage Feast herself. Yes, Duessa claims he’s her nephew. I doubt this claim. There’s something in her eyes when she looks a him, a hunger that’s not a passion one feels for one’s kin. Not that there’s any doubt Damian is an Ashelocke. He resembles Stefan, the First Feast too closely for his blood to be doubted. Perhaps this is the reason for Duessa’s hunger and hesitation when she looks at Damian. She didn’t hesitate with Christopher, my poor little brother, who was much sweeter and more docile than Damian. I know how to handle that headstrong youth, even if Duessa is too soft to do so. I will Feast upon Damian myself, drinking his life force and power. Once I do, I’ll take Duessa herself. By the Spider, I sound as perverse as Mel! No matter. Passion in the pursuit of power is never pathetic, even if it is perverse. Didn’t Dyvian once say something like that to me? Why am I thinking of Dyvian? He stands in my garden now, unaging, still, and beautiful. True, he was once delicious. The taste of him still lingers in my mouth, yet that is but a treasured memory, nothing more. Why do I feel like it’s not? Why am I avoiding the spot where he stands in my garden? Not that he’s the only one who haunts my dreams. Melyssa keeps stalking me, only she’s very different than the pathetic misfit who shunned Marriage Feasts, although she still has only two arms. Something about her is different, a disturbing sensuality, a power wafting off her like exotic perfume. She whispers to me that I’m going to be her first Marriage Feast. What nonsense! A lady cannot be another lady’s Marriage Feast! Yet am I not contemplating something like this with Duessa, in order to take her magic? Can it be Melyssa yearns to do something similar to me? I’m afraid, yet I’m shamefully excited. Let her come. Let both Dyvian and Melyssa stalk me in my sleep. Once I take Damian and Duessa, we’ll see just who does the stalking.
Once I was a lady with faerie ties, a handsome knight at my side. My knight vaniquished those whom I bade him to vanquish and all was delightful. The delight ended when my foolish knight fell in love and allowed himself to be ensnared. In truth, he’d loved Stefan Ashelock for a long time, only to ride away from that passion. When he heard Stefan had fallen into an enchantress’s web, nothing would stop him from battling that enchantress to free his former love. Only my knight was utterly ensnared by Duessa Ashelocke, Stefan’s wife, even though she was the very enchantress he opposed and far worse. My former love, my companion ended up one of Duessa’s Valentines, wrapped up in a cocoon, and doomed to dangle in the Spider’s Temple, while the Spider’s vessel slowly drained the life from him. For that’s what Duessa Ashelocke truly was, a monster, who’d prayed to the spider to transform her into a monster, so she could deliver women from the tyranny and rapine of men. Well, she convinced other ladies with her conviction to join her in her monstrous state, founding Arachnia within the Ashelocke lands. These ladies live in their lovely gardens, nurturing beautiful boys, only to feed upon them before they can become men. Not that Duessa limits herself to just boys, taking the occassional girl. So much for Arachnia and Mystere being havens for women. It certainly has not been one for me. The lady clipped my wings, making me a slave, bringing out my darker appetites. Now I’m as monstrous as she is. I’ve endured humilation and dark hunger in that creature’s service, yet my vengeance may be at hand. I’ve tampered with some of the ointments used to anoint a Marriage Feast, a boy about to be ritually drained of his essence. Duessa and her kin will suffer the after-effects of certain specially seasoned victims. For I have all the malice and fun of the Hollow Hills and the hidden groves and I look forward to fruit of my mischief. What chaos shall be brought to these carefully ordered gardens, I wonder? Duessa herself may be ripe for my vengeance. For the spider lady loves a boy now as much as I once cherished my knight. Damian Ashelocke may let be the instrument of Duessa’s downfall. I savor every moment of pain he inflicts upon her cold heart.