The not-carriages moved through the Myst, along the Myst Road and the Between Woods, guided by magick rather than by a driver. It was argued that the not-carriages and those that they carried were safer this way, were less likely to be lost to the Myst—that the drivers themselves were susceptible to being deceived by the Myst and going astray—however, Tove had never entirely believed this, but there was nothing that she could do about it either at this point.
As the not-carriages continued racing along at the speed of one of the ancient Rocs, towards the Court of Miracles, high up in the forested mountains, the vibrant, oppressive greenery of the Court of Dreams, heavy with the lingering scents of olive and juniper, cedar and pine, laurel and holly, gave way to the delicate soft grey-green and yellowy-green of the Court of Miracles, the scent shifting to pine and fir, mountain ash and snowgum, mint and hyacinth and lilac mixing and changing the atmosphere of the journey.
They had crossed the line but still had a ways to go—assuming that the Myst was going to allow them to proceed apace—until they reached the chinaberry tree border that all of the Courts used as a sign that, yes, they had arrived at their intended destination.
Or, at least, they had arrived at a safe harbor.
Or, that there were just chinaberry trees. Again, the Myst was a tricky creature.
But, it was going to be fine.
It was going so well.
And, of course, that’s when everything went magnificently pear-shaped.
The first indication that something was amiss was that the not-carriage just kinda—wobbled oddly. A sharp jolt to the left that woke Grey and Persis, who had been curled up together on either side of an apparently sleeping Ione, but from the way that Ione’s muscles tensed, Tove was guessing that sleeping was a ruse.
Much like Mad March Grey, who sat on the other side of the not-carriage from Tove, was pretending ease and rest.
Aedeir looked alert at the first wobble while Zoii’s fingers were already beginning to vine out and Killian was already muttering something arcane beneath his breath.
It’s like they’re preparing for war.
That was the last thing Tove thought before the not-carriage careened off the Myst Road and landed on its side, rolled twice, and settled on its roof.
There might have been a bounce or something in there, Tove couldn’t be certain because Tove hit her head sharply against the side of the not-carriage, sight swimming and swirling with black spots and bright lights for a moment before it cleared. Not even completely certain what Tove was doing, she started to push everyone in her reach that had landed against her towards the not-carriage’s windows as the not-carriage itself was filling with water and sinking into sticky, stinking marsh-muck.
Tove could see familiar gray-skinned, pebbled skinned feet and legs as Grey reached down and pulled Persis and then Zoii from the not-carriage, reaching in to offer Tove their hand and pulling them from the muck with an audible squelching sound.
The members of their not-carriage were standing in knee-deep water as the not-carriage continued to sink in the mud—luckily, they weren’t heavy enough to be sucked down into the mud evidently—looking around, making certain that they had each and every person secured, while Persis was shakily checking everyone’s damage.
Tove looked at the bottom of the not-carriage and saw that one of the wheels had been blown clean off, scorch marks marring the gilt and gold of the not-carriage as it was slowing slipping from view.
So, it wasn’t an accident.
In the distance, the other not-carriages had come to a halt on the road, and their occupants were shouting into the marsh, too far away for Tove to make out the words.
Venture not from the paths in the Myst. They are your only assurance of safety. Once you’ve ventured off the path, you are the Myst’s.
No one was going to help them.
“Everyone,” Tove shouted, head ringing. “We need to get back to the Road now.”
Everyone looked at Tove oddly for a moment, and then, Mad March Grey shouted “MOVE.” at the same moment that Ione grabbed Grey and Persis’ elbows and shoved them hard towards Tove.
Tove dragged the resisting Grey and the unresisting Persis back towards the Road, Zoii close on their heels (seeming perhaps taller than they had before?), and when Tove turned towards the Road, Aedeir, Ione, and Mad March Grey were situated in such a way as to bring up the rear, faced towards the ostensible Myst, despite it seeming to be keeping its distance for now, as Killian walked carefully backwards, blood dripping down his arms, violet-black energy crackling around his hands as Killian prepared a arcanic blast.
This was getting very serious very fast.
Tove keep dragging Persis as Grey broke free and pulled the sword from their side with a silver blur and the snub-nosed pepper-box with a brass blur, but instead of rushing headlong into combat that didn’t exist as yet—which, honestly, Tove was expecting—Grey continued to follow along behind Tove and Persis, but now, Grey was acting as a guard themselves also.
We need to get to the road.
Tove and Persis kept sloughing through the marsh-much. Tove listening carefully to the splashing steps of the rest of their entourage, resisting everything in her that said to look back and check on everyone, feeling the Myst billowing closer and closer and closer, the chill and damp resting on the back of Tove’s neck.
Tove couldn’t handle this.
“Roll call!” Tove shouted, trying to mentally bend the sound back behind her to be heard by her compatriots. “Is everyone still together. Tell me what you’re seeing.”
Grey was the first to respond. “Everyone is accounted for.”
The for now hung eerily in the air.
“So far,” Killian shouted, his voice bending back towards Tove so that it was fainter than expected and more echoing. “It looks like the same marsh we crashed in, like something from the edges of Nightmare. The Myst is still hanging back.”
Tove’s hooves found purchase on the grass and undergrowth next to the Myst Road as Tove drug Persis up onto the mostly solid ground with her. In a rush, Tove shoved Persis back onto the Road, and Tove stood just on the edge of the Road waiting as first Grey—still walking backwards, sword at the ready—and then Zoii—tall, tall, tall—then Killian—blood still dripping down his arms, the violet-black energy still crackling along his fingers—then, in a united front, Aedeir, Ione, and Mad March Grey came along side Tove, Ione grabbing Tove’s hand and pulling her the last step onto the Road.
They had made it. They were safe(-ish) on the Road.
Tove sat heavily on the Road itself. “Okay,” Tove released a breath that she literally had not realized she was holding and just shook for a second. “Let’s not do that again.” Tove said it mostly to herself, but she knew that, at least, Grey and Ione had heard her.
“Agreed.” Ione muttered, still staring off into the marsh as if waiting for the Myst to try to overtake them here, where they were theoretically safe. “However, I’d be happier if we could be on our way? Just because we’re on the Road doesn’t mean that we are completely safe.”
Tove stood and saw that Grey was already directing people to redistribute people and baggage to accommodate the suddenly not-carriage-less Scions.
This wasn’t an accident.
Tove kept the words locked up, certain-sure that Ione, Aedeir, and Mad March Grey had also come to this realization—honestly, from the way that Zoii, Killian, and Grey had reacted, Tove was fairly certain that had come to the same conclusion—took a breath and walked over to where Grey was directing people. “It’s going to be tight, but I think I’ve gotten everything sorted,” Grey said, not even looking from what they were doing, as if they just knew Tove was the one who would be standing there beside them. “We’re all going to ride with Armitage and Cassius, and we’re going to have to just—forgo the baggage that was attached to our contraption, but we’ve tested our luck enough for one day, so no one’s going to go back out there for it.”
“I’ve certainly had enough of the muck for today,” Tove said casually, acknowledging Grey’s point-blank reminder that Tove had tarried on the edge of the road instead of finding safety. But, really, Tove couldn’t leave everyone out there in the Myst on their own; it was the only thing that she could do in that moment: drag Persis to safety and, then, make certain that everyone else made it to safety.
That was what Tove did.
Grey leaned into Tove a little and bumped their hip against Tove’s leg. “It’s not like there was anything of any sort of importance in our baggage on that ridiculous piece of junk anyway.”
Tove nodded not looking at Grey, recognizing the tone that Grey spoke in that resonated with something in Tove that said too close, it was too close. We almost lost people.
There was a whole lot of not looking at each other, the Rules of the Myst causing them all to be extra careful of movements that would seem like looking over their shoulder, but also because—as Tove watched the Scioncy and their Protectors move around the not-carriages and each other—they had each been afraid that they had lost the others for several long moments.
And, Tove was realizing—because this wasn’t an accident—that their little plotted and planned not-really-a-revolution-but-might-actually-be-a-revolution might have somehow leaked back to those that colluded with the Watercolor Guild, and their futures might actually mean that they will lose someone to the fray.
Tove wasn’t sure that she was okay with that.
Wasn’t it better to live in safety than to lose someone that you cared about, lose everyone that you care about? Wasn’t it better to just accept the way that everything had always been as good enough?
Tove glanced over at Grey—at Persis, Ione, and Killian—at how each and every one of them had picked themselves up, had armed themselves, and been ready for a fight, and Tove felt distinctly cowardly for a moment—not because Tove hadn’t been ready to fight but because part of Tove, a part that had been sculpted and constructed by her duo-matres, by Cy, was willing to just accept injustice and oppression if it meant safety and security.
Accept it when those that Tove loved so fiercely were willing to stand up, to be heard, to fight.
It wasn’t enough to live in safety and security if others were unsafe, if others were oppressed. Tove should know better than that, had learned better than that from those before her.
She would be better than that.
Hugging Grey sideways and dropping a kiss on Killian’s check, Tove felt like she might be ready for what was coming.
“We should get going.”
Once they were again on their way, the Myst Road seemed to, well, just accept where they were headed to and caused them no more trouble.
Not that the Myst had caused the not-carriage to basically explode, but without a more thorough examination of the wreckage, there wasn’t a whole lot that any of them could discern other than not an accident.
And, Tove was pretty certain that it was magick, but with the potentially bleed-through of Euigilans Somnium culture via the Watercolor Guild, it was entirely possible that an explosive could be involved.
Didn’t Grey and Ione carry “guns” now as double-super-secret secondary weapons—especially now that they were in the Venery, and a potentially hostile Venery at that.
(Not that anyone outside of their group knew about these weapons but still.)
But, of course, Tove couldn’t discuss any of her thoughts about what was going on because they were all now shoved in with Armitage and Cassius, and yeah Aedeir trusted them, but Tove didn’t really know them yet, and it just felt so convenient that they joined their extended Euigilans Somnium outing shortly before the Scioncy made a State Visit to the Courts and, then, just happened to get nearly blown up in the Between Woods.
Just—it might be a coincidence, but this all smelled hinky to Tove.
So, she’d just wait to speak to everyone until they were safely tucked into the Court of Miracles, see if—maybe—Grey could get them all put into the same suite of rooms or something.
Really, if they could all be in the same suite, Tove would feel more secure because Tove was fairly certain that she was going to be extremely uneasy until they were all safely back at the house in the Euigilans Somnium.
As Tove watched the Between Woods fly by, in the distance, she saw the blood-red border of chinaberry trees that marked the beginning of the actual Court of Miracles.
Tove relaxed just the tiniest bit.
Once they were in the Court of Miracles, they would be safe, right? They were the Scions, still. There had to be some sort of safety in those titles.
Although, really, Tove wasn’t so certain anymore.
Could it be that their plans were somehow getting back to those in the Courts who were colluding with the Watercolor Guild?
Could they have a turncoat amongst them?
Could the Watercolor Guild just get a name that actually inspired the appropriate amount of terror? (Seriously, a different name would really assist in Tove being properly terrified of them.)
There was no knowing until something actually happened.
The not-carriages pulled into the courtyard of the Court of Miracles’ aerie.
I guess it’s time to find out.