She looks to Jack, the second-to-last agent of Derse, hanging in the empty space of a wrecked and ransacked session. She loathes him, but with the loathing comes an understanding. The Queen's last order to her bubbles forth in her mind. She'd foreseen each of their moves already, and had positioned her for her final purpose: revenge for what he'd done and would do if left to his own devices unchecked. In her hands—on her finger—through her mind—flows the unwavering cry for vengeance of thousands of innocents and the burning of a monstrous sun. A friend lies bleeding at her feet. And yet she feels uncertain.
Since her beginnings on Prospit, when things were uncomplicated and new, she had been a woman of action. There'd been no need for introspection, even as the kids each joined the session, adding their own separate contributions to her surroundings and abilities and things began to change.
Instead, as the adventurers arrived there had been a gradual accumulation and shifting of identities. There had always been—and would be—the mail. From pyxis to pyxis—a true and proper profession: persistent and predictable. It represented good and order and justice, and though she walked terrains unfamiliar and weather unpredictable, the knowledge of what her work represented propelled her ever forward, knowing that she helped to make sure everyone got what was coming to them. Making sure the mail continued even as the world fell into chaos was never easy, but it came easily to her.
Then came the sword and the mission.
Her Queen had always been the one concerned with forethought. No Queen should have given up her ring so easily, and yet she had relinquished it at the sight of the sword. Not out of cowardice, but out of certitude, sensing its tactical importance immediately. Where one may have seen regicide, her Queen saw the advantage the mission would grant their side. She put her trust in the mission and the Mistress' ability to carry it out. She was the one who greased the wheels, she was the one who made things work, and her confidence made the Mistress brave. Though she'd met her but briefly, her influence was always felt. It was a light that all Prospitians felt, but knowing that she had earned her particular trust was a guiding power and crutch in times of need. It added a certain confidence and even a sense of predestination to her actions, knowing that they were a part of the Queen's maneuverings and strategy. It kept her safe, and it kept her from questioning, even as the pure white of her her hands grew dirty and stained with blood.
Then came the years of exile, then the coronation. And each of these things, in its turn, had come as naturally as breathing. Even the ring, unexpected though it had been at the time, came to her with a sense of purpose. The Queen-then-Questant had been able to convey it all with a tilt of the head and a touch of her hand—the role of monarch on this wasteland planet was no longer about strategy, but about strength and action. They were a matched pair: consult and certitude. It seemed that one could hardly exist without the other.
But with Jack's arrival there had come a shift in purpose yet again. That much had been certain from the Questant's abdication. Unexpected, however, was the shift in form and identity. Moreso than when she'd accepted the Queen's ring for her own, she felt a shift in her very nature. It wasn't the low hum of instinct and destiny that she'd grown used to as she carried it—when she finally put it on, instinct welled up to replace her personal confidence—instinct so powerful that she nearly lost herself in its waves. For the first time she found herself outside the society she'd so recently been busy reimagining and preparing to rebuild. And, most unusually, outside her Queen's reassuring certitude. The last tenets of the ideas of society she'd held so dear seemed to fall away.
The world seemed painted over in black and white (and green). Jack was the enemy. Derse was the enemy. She knew this always in the darker corners of her mind, but with her fellow exiles she'd been able to ignore it. It grew up once again, new and certain, with the power of the ring. In a world that no longer seemed to have room for shades of grey, she searched for what she'd known before.
It was all she could do to concentrate long enough through the green haze of necessity to pick up the battered body of the former Vagabond, the first-to-last remaining agent of Derse and her friend, and to bring him away from their doomed wasteland.
Finally, she finds a reminder that this is not the certitude of the Queen. It's buried deep in her memories, a walk in the dusk through a series of dues at the foot of a hill. Their city would sit at the top, guiding others with its hopeful light. The shadows, too, would help to make their city, not only because they were necessary for contrast, but because they were to be the loyal opposition, keeping power in balance. They, too, were part of the whole.
She wonders, for the span of a moment, if her friend might be healed by the ring. An idle part in the back of her mind indicates that the sword she carries in her midsection might stop the bloodflow if he were to wear it instead, but the sense of balance and certainty seems so tenuous that she cannot let go.
She imagines the Queen's own power of planning inside of her—because without her Queen, perhaps that power too would have followed the ring and title—and she begins to calculate. The whole of possibility seems to be spread out on a web before her, though the only certain threads lead backwards. And even those are wrought with fading lines of possibility.
Never before had she been in the habit of thinking of what could have been, or even of thinking in hypotheticals at all. She thinks about what they might have created on that blank slate of a world, had Jack not destroyed each of her companions in turn, then the planet they were meant to rebuilt. She thinks of who she's been, and who she's become—who her White Queen has made her be, or who she had helped her become. She was no longer sure where her own will began and ended, it had so often been a thing taken for granted as part and parcel of the will of all the Prospitians.
There should be something more there, she thinks. Perhaps there's something she's missed, and she begins to retrace her steps, from the golden moon of Prospit to the tarry marshes of the Land of Wind and Shade to the sandy expanses of what was formerly Earth.
She thinks of what they might have become instead: a Patriot Missionary and her Watchful Qualtagh (their titles, surely, would have come more naturally to her were they more than hypothetical thoughts), pacing out the boundaries of their new realm, adjusting its balance so it would fit both their preferences and those of the Dersites. There would be no more war, no more fighting for position or for superiority. Each of them had an essential role to fulfil in their new society. They would make one complete whole out of two halves rather than two halves each fighting to make a whole solely of themselves. She'd been certain she'd be able to guide them to that purpose, even through the petty rivalries between the two Dersites.
And, underlying that strong society, was the certainty that together they would bring the would-be usurper to justice.
The Wilted Vadelect is the Wildcard Victim. His survival will determine the final balance in this standoff between herself and her new equal, even if the balance trends black. The erstwhile-vagabond alone remains of her former companions, but his uncertain status causes his absence to loom equally with theirs: The Awkward Reminders of Warmongering Qualities Wanting Revenge.
She can feel her focus narrow down to Jack, and at times in the stalemate, it seems like he may be the only thing in the universe as she trails along behind him, following his every move and preparing to counter. Yet over time this focus seems somehow wrong.
She shakes the thought away and looks forward through space and possibility to the asteroid coasting through the furthest rings. The important thing, she realizes, is not Jack, but balance. The certainty returns as she realizes that her purpose here, too, is one of checkmate. As long as she can keep him in check, the war might end in a draw, but the lives of those caught up in it can go on safely. She will deliver to each what they have coming: delivering justice to the usurper, and the kids from harm.