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The Shadow Matrix

by Leigh Kimmel

In a brief prologue, Mikhail Lanart-Hastur and Dyan Ardais (the son of Danilo Syrtus-Ardais, not the Dyan Ardais of the Sharra Rebellion, who is long dead) travel to Elhalyn Castle for a seance. Priscilla Elhalyn has become notably eccentric and keeps a number of minor talents around her house as amusements, including a bone-reader and a Dry-Town seeress, Ysaba. Mikhail thinks little of this until Ysaba summons up something that claims to be the ghost of Derik Elhalyn, Priscilla's deceased brother. Priscilla then extracts a vow of silence from Mikhail as the price of his freedom to leave. Mikhail hears something about a Guardian wanting them, but by that time he wants nothing more to do with this madness. The next morning he and Dyan leave for Thendara.

Part One takes up four years later, as Mikhail returns to the Elhalyn Domain, this time to find a suitable heir for the Darkovan throne, a ceremonial position that has traditionally belonged to the head of the Elhalyn Domain. However, madness runs through the Elhalyn line, and it is possible that all three of Priscilla Elhalyn's sons may be unfit for the role.

Priscilla has moved her household out of the old Elhalyn Castle, now a ruin, and into Halyn House, the traditional dower house of the realm. Now the household is in the thrall of the mysterious and sinister Emelda, who functions as Priscilla's household leronis. She seems to have warped the minds of everyone there, including the children. Although Mikhail is suspicious, he soon finds himself lulled into a terrible legarthy, to the point that it takes all his effort to accomplish the smallest of tasks.

Meanwhile, Margaret Alton is struggling to learn how to manage the mysterious shadow matrix that was imprinted into her left hand when she destroyed the matrices in the overworld which were the last bastion of Ashara Alton, the terrible ancestress who had long controlled the hidden Tower of Comyn Castle. Because of the shadow matrix, Margaret is unable to work in the presence of other matrices. Thus she must dwell in one of the outlying cottages of Arilinn Tower rather than in the main dormitory as is customary.

Her foster mother, Diotima Ridenow, is gravely ill with a wasting disease. In hopes of stabilizing her, she is being put in stasis, a sort of suspended animation using laran. Although Margaret wants to do her filial duty and visit regularly, it causes her great pain because of the matrices maintaining the stasis.

Then Domenic Alar, who had been badly injured and left paralyzed after his neck was broken in a carriage accident brought about by a panicked flight after Margaret had a prophetic vision, chokes to death. His overprotective mother, Ariel Alar, continues to blame and hate Margaret for her son's death.

As they go to his burial in the traditional burying-grounds of the Hastur-kin near Lake Hali, Margaret talks with her father, Lew Alton, about politics. He discusses the growing power of the Expansionists, who want to take everything from the outer worlds to feed Terra, and particularly their own power. When they return to Thendara, they get word that Ida Davidson, wife of her former mentor, is coming to retrieve her late husband's remains for burial on their homeworld.

Margaret then sets out for Neskaya Tower in the company of Rafaella n'ha Liriel and several other Renunciates, along with a Dry Town merchant returning to his desert home. On the way they are attacked by mountain bandits, and Margaret unconsciously uses the Voice to command them to stop. Everyone, friend and foe alike, freezes like statues. She realizes that she may well have condemned her friends to a terrible death if she cannot reawaken them. Her only hope is the shadow matrix in her hand. Since she does not know how, she tries her method on one of the bandits first, then has to break his neck to kill him when he tries to attack her on the spot. She successfully awakens her friends and they dispatch the rest of the bandits. They then continue on to Neskaya, where Margaret struggles with the memory of what she did.

While she is there, she receives a telepathic contact from Mikhail. However, he is rather disoriented and has difficulty maintaining contact. She wonders if there's some kind of distraction, and immediately suspects a love interest. Determining not to work herself into a fit of jealousy, she puts it out of her mind.

Back at Elhalyn House, Mikhail is getting nowhere on his mission to test the boys for their suitability for the throne. A mysterious sea crow suddenly adopts Mikhail, and saves his life from a near deadly accident with a combat dummy that overturns on top of him. Emun, the youngest son, has a terrible nightmare, and Mikhail suspects some kind of foul play twisting the workings of his brain. Realizing he's in over his head, he finally decides to call upon his sister Liriel for help and perspective on the situation.

Liriel arrives six days later and soon comments upon the strangeness of the place. Mikhail comes to realize just how bad the situation is. Vincent, the middle son, is a regular bully who probably is a menace to his sisters and a molester of all the village girls. Worse yet, Mikhail has allowed his own hands to become tied by sticking too closely to his uncle Regis' directive to test the boys and find a suitable heir for the throne.

Emelda finally forces a confrontation, then tries to use her laran to enthrall their minds. At a critical moment Emun provides a distraction that allows Mikhail to grab a dish of food and clout Emelda over the head. With her knocked unconscious, Mikhail and Liriel are able to take away her matrix, which shows evidence of having been taken from a trap-matrix, a nasty psionic device left over from the Ages of Chaos. Emelda does not go into shock from having it taken from her, and Liriel orders it thrown into the fire to clarify it. However, Priscilla blames them for interfering with Emelda.

That night the mysterious Guardian awakens and shouts into Mikhail's mind, demanding that everyone go away and leave it in peace. Priscilla tries to demand of it the immortality she believes it promised her. She falls dead and Emelda then raves about how they were supposed to live forever and become like gods.

Priscilla is buried on the grounds. Mikhail discovers that the Guardian was apparently a chieri, one of the ancient and long-lived natives of Darkover, from the time before the Lost Ship brought the ancestors of the Comyn and their followers to this world. The chieri apparently lives nearby in some kind of trance, and Mikhail resolves to leave it in peace. He then destroys the trap-matrix that Emelda had been using by smashing it to bits on a blacksmith's anvil. When it is destroyed, Mikhail feels himself free at last of the last bits of the mental legarthy that had ensnared him. They then gather up the five children and leave for Thendara.

Part Two opens with Mikhail's arrival in Thendara five days later, bringing the five children of the Elhalyn Domain. He then confers with Regis Hastur about the situation.

Margaret is still at Neskaya Tower, struggling with a forboding dream of a maze of corridors through which she had to walk. She wonders what matter of ill she is about to face. She finally decides to return to Thendara in the company of her Renunciate friends.

Mikhail then has to deal with Gisela Aldaran, who is completely convinced that she will be married to him to seal the reconciliation between the Aldarans and the lowland Domains. This leads to a dispute with Margaret, who thinks that Gisela is trying to force herself onto Mikhail and does not appreciate having a rival for his affection.

Margaret is glad to have the distraction of Ida Davidson's arrival and the necessity of meeting the pleasant older woman at the Terran spaceport. However, she gets a rather rude reception from the guard on duty, who sees only her Darkovan garb and nearly refuses to admit her, even when she produces her official papers which show her to be a Terran citizen. At first they accuse her of stealing them, and flatly refuses to allow her escort of Guardsmen to accompany her beyond the gates. She meets Ida and learns of the terrible changes that are afoot now that the Expansionists are in power. Art and music are now regarded as disposable luxuries, and the University is rapidly losing funding for those things. Margaret suggests that Ida might wish to remain permanently on Darkover, especially when they quickly discover that it will be well-night impossible to exhume the late Ivor, and completely impossible to ship his remains via interstellar ship.

Then it is time for the Midwinter Ball, a major celebration in Comyn Castle. Amidst the festivities, there is a sudden psychic call -- TO HALI! NOW! It rings with terrible force, and Mikhail and Margaret flee down to the stables, where they grab horses and ride away in the night. When they arrive at Hali Tower, a strange force grabs them and whisks them away.

Part Three opens as they arrive in the past, to discover that Hali Tower is not a ruin at all, but a standing tower. Within it they discover Amalie El Haliene, who calls herself Keeper in the absence of the regular Keeper. She tells a strange story of circles taken away and sends them on their way to seek the dying Varzil the Good before Ashara Alton can locate him.

Mikhail and Margaret find Varzil the Good in a mysterious house guarded by strange laran. He is indeed dying, but had been holding onto his last breath in hopes of passing his legendary matrix ring to a successor from some future time after Ashara Alton is no more. Furthermore, he insists that Mikhail and Margaret must be joined in di catenas marriage in order to couple their peculiar laran. He performs the ceremony using a pair of bracelets that were supposed to have gone to the slain couple whom Mikhail and Margaret so strongly resemble. A strange woman witnesses the ceremony, seemingly an ancient crone until she manifests herself as a glowing woman of light. With the marriage complete, Varzil then hands over his matrix ring and links it to Mikhail's own matrix. The experience becomes overwhelming for both young people.

When Margaret comes to, she is lying in a ruin, cradling Mikhail's head upon her lap. He is deep in matrix shock from having his natural energies disrupted by the transfer of Varzil's matrix. They are discovered by a travelling company of the Sisterhood of the Sword, who take them to a nearby ruined castle that had belonged to the Elhalyn family. The swordswomen prepare a meal, then slip off in the night while Margaret sleeps.

Mikhail awakes, but he is weak for several days. He and Margaret consummate their marriage, then finally decide to resume travelling. However, they are then captured by Dom Padriac El Haliene, the man who had kidnapped the leroni of Hali Tower. He is accompanied by a set of identical guards who seem more like androids than human beings. He dwells in a huge and splendid castle, no record of which has survived to Mikhail's time, so Mikhail surmises that it must have been destroyed without a trace.

Dom Padriac is using a terrible mind-control drug to force the captive leroni to mine a poisonous yellow ore that appears to be uranium. He also has a sizeable store of explosives, so it is implied that he may be attempting to put together one or more low-yield fission bombs. (This would imply that laran can substitute for the elaborate systems normally used to separate isotopes and refine enough U-235 to form something similar to the Hiroshima bomb. A more workable plan would have been a radiological weapon, using the explosives to scatter finely divided uranium powder over a large area, rather than trying to make a critical mass).

Mikhail and Margaret set the captive leroni free and find a way to safely get rid of the yellowstone by manipulating the time trapped inside matrices. Then one of the newly freed leroni, a firestarter, sets the whole castle on fire. They all flee, and Mikhail and Margaret seek refuge in the mysterious Hali lake, which is not filled with water. They spend almost a month in stasis within it, and emerge only when the time is right for their return to their own time.

They come back to find winter in full force, and the garments they had been wearing terribly inadequate. They nearly freeze before they figure out a way to make themselves warm by laran long enough for Lew Alton to find them and take them to shelter.

They then return to Thendara to face the political mess that their temporal adventures have created. It is finally decided that Gisela shall instead marry Mikhail's elder brother. Regis' son Danilo will relinquish his heirship in favor of Mikhail, thus settling the problem of Regis' ill-worded adoption so many years earlier. Danilo does not regard himself as tempermentally suited to the actual business of running a country, but is sane and stable enough to be its ceremonial head of state. He will wed one of the Elhalyn daughters and become king, and thus bring new blood into that troubled lineage.

In the epilogue, Margaret goes to Arilinn Tower and uses her new-found abilities to heal her foster-mother, who can finally awaken from stasis.


copyright 96-99 Leigh Kimmel
HTML version by Fabrice Rossi (rossi@fr.darkover.org)

source file (Last modification: Wed Apr 21 17:21:45 1999)