"Much, much worse, dear sister," Big-Me declared. "Nobody—and I do mean nobody—would even consider taking that kind of a chance, no matter what kind of reward has been offered."
"Why don't we just send for Longbow, Big-Me?" I suggested. "He could kill Stinky from so far away that her odor wouldn't reach him."
"That might just be the best idea of all, Balacenia," Enalla said. "Once we get rid of Stinky, Aracia should return to good sense."
"Except that Longbow's involved in the war up in Long-Pass," Big-Me replied. "I'm afraid that Stinky is our problem, and we'd better solve it very soon."
" think it's time for you to go to sleep, child Eleria," Mother's voice came to me.
"You said what?" I demanded.
"You're going to have to Dream, Eleria. That's probably the only way we'll be able to prevent Aracia from destroying herself—and I'm not sure even that will be enough. Alcevan has warped Aracia's mind to the point she thinks that she's immune to what's almost certain to be the result of her attempt to obliterate Lillabeth. I'm hoping that your Dream will bring her back to her senses."
"You want me to pretend that I'm asleep and then tell her a story so awful that she won't dare to try to kill Lillabeth?"
"Drop 'pretend,' Eleria," Mother told me. "You will be asleep, and you will have a Dream. Then you and Enalla—who appears to be Lillabeth—will recite the Dream in unison, in the same way that you and Lillabeth did last autumn. Aracia knows that the Dreams have power far beyond anything she can do, and your Dream should frighten her enough to make her reconsider Alcevan's suggestion."
"What if it doesn't?"
"We'll lose Aracia," Mother bluntly replied, "and I'm not sure what the result will be."
I knew that I was asleep. That's one of the things that separates "those" Dreams from ordinary ones. The Dream that Mother provided was moderately terrible, and I was fairly sure that it would give Aracia some second thoughts.
But it didn't turn out that way. Aracia—or Alcevan, the bug—was already ahead of us. The door to Lillabeth's nursery banged open, and Aracia, wild-eyed with fury and with her hair tangled and sticking out in all directions, burst into the room. She was screaming what sounded much like curses in a hoarse voice. Little Stinky was right behind her with an expression of victory on her face.
"I have Dreamed." Lillabeth, who was really Enalla, and I began to recite the content of the Dream Mother had given me, but I saw almost immediately that Aracia wasn't even listening. I suppose that it's possible that Alcevan the bug had turned her ears off.
"Foul usurper!" Aracia screamed at the child she thought was Lillabeth. "Violator of my temple! I have cared for thee with all my heart, but thy first act when I have gone to my sleep will be to betray me. Know ye that thou shall not have this temple, nor the worship of those who serve me, for I must banish thee now and forever from the world of the living, wicked child. Be no more, wicked Lillabeth!" Aracia screamed. "Exist no longer!"
For about a moment she stood in one place as if she had just been frozen, and then, as my Dream had predicted, she gradually began to change from what appeared to be human into tiny speckles of light—even as she had in my Dream. Her outward shape didn't seem to change, but it now consisted of those specks of light. I was quite sure that Big-Me and Enalla had simply turned her command around and thrown it back at her, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that her command had turned on her all by itself. Had Enalla and I been allowed to describe my Dream, would that have saved Aracia? I do not know. If killing is forbidden, telling someone—or something—to die, might just destroy the speaker rather than the intended victim. From what I could make out of Aracia's face, she had an expression of sheer horror on what passed for her face. Then her face was gone, and the specks of light grew brighter and brighter. Then there was an enormous burst of pure light, and Aracia wasn't there anymore.
Alcevan howled in frustration, and then she fled as Lillabeth began to weep and moan in her grief. Enalla was standing with Big-Me near the door, so poor Lillabeth was suffering her grief all by herself. I took her in my arms and held her. It wasn't really all that much in the way of comforting her in her time of sorrow, but it was the best I could come up with.
Lillabeth was still weeping when Veltan came rushing into the room. "What was that awful noise just now?" he demanded.
I wasn't feeling very kindly toward anybody just then, so I answered Veltan's stupid question in a cold, blunt tone of voice. "Your sister just destroyed herself. She came in raving and with Stinky right behind her. Then she commanded Lillabeth to be no more. Since that's forbidden, her curse—or whatever you want to call it—turned and flew right back into her face, and she suddenly turned into little speckles of very bright light. The speckles grew brighter and brighter, and then there was a huge burst of pure light, and your sister wasn't there anymore." I had decided not to reveal my involvement to any members of the family. If Mother wanted to tell them, that was up to her, but I chose to keep my mouth shut.
Veltan went suddenly very pale, and then he also began to weep as his sorrow overwhelmed him.
Then Mother suddenly appeared. "What's going on here?" she demanded—as if she didn't know.
"Aracia came here with that bug-thing that calls herself Alcevan right behind her," I replied. "I'd say that Alcevan turned her odor loose and persuaded Aracia to try to destroy Lillabeth. I couldn't prove that Alcevan was responsible, but she was there, and Aracia ignored a very important rule and ordered Lillabeth to dissolve—or something like that—but her order turned around and dissolved her instead. I'm afraid you just lost one of your babies, Mother, and there isn't enough of Aracia left to even try to bury."
Mother touched her finger to her lips and then gave me a very stern look to keep Veltan and the others in the room from finding out what had really happened. Then she spoke in that voice she uses to reach out to her assorted children. "Dahlaine," she said, "and Zelana. We've got a crisis here in Aracia's silly temple. You'd better come here as fast as you can, and bring the children."
Lillabeth was still weeping when the others joined us in her room, and I was still doing my best to comfort her. But then, at Mother's suggestion, I'm sure, Enalla took Lillabeth into her arms, and Mother told me to repeat the story of Aracia's self-destruction for the others.