Archondid finished and looked up. Alainna and Solea frowned at him. “This is the first time that I have heard of this story,” Archondid said quietly. “When Uclepidies served the Conqueror, he was away from the other Black Swans most of the time. The other Black Swans have stories that parallel each other, as you will find out when you read the stories that they have given you. But Uclepidies’s story is still very much unknown, as he hasn’t been able to tell his story until recently, and he is still very much reticent to do so.”
“Why?” Solea asked.
“Because he helped the Conqueror get to power,” Archondid said simply. “If it weren’t for him, there would be no Conqueror. He was the only Black Swan who was stupid enough to give his blood willingly to his niece and allow her to possess him. And she used him to possess the other Black Swans. After that, she was basically untouchable, until she was stupid enough to try to possess Diamea, and then the whole thing backfired on her.”
“But why did Uclepidies try to help her?”
Archondid shrugged his wings. “Who knows? He’s never told me. I was tied up to a pole in the desert when the Conqueror stuff happened, so I never even knew my niece existed until it was already too late. I helped create the acid that destroyed her, once Eurodities loosened my bonds, since none of the other White Swans wanted to help her destroy the Conqueror, but that was all.”
“That was when Sergius attacked you?” Solea said quietly.
Archondid nodded, grimacing. “It’s Eurodities who knows most of Uclepidies’s story,” he added. “Once she heard the rumors about the rise of the Conqueror, she transformed into a human, disguised herself, and worked as a servant to the queen until she figured out a way to destroy the Conqueror from the inside. She saw some of what Uclepidies did while the Conqueror was in power. And perhaps he was possessed when he did some of the things that he did. Who knows? But I can tell you that the things she saw him do were not good.”
Archondid gestured to the letter grimly. “This letter doesn’t do him any favors either. If the Conqueror made a necklace special for the queen for her to tell whether Uclepidies was being possessed or not, that indicates that he still had quite a bit of free will and probably supported the Conqueror in her efforts freely. I can tell you that his brothers and sisters were not given the luxury of such freedom. When the Conqueror was not possessing them, they were very much imprisoned and sometimes even tortured when they refused to comply with the Conqueror. So why was he allowed to go free when they weren’t, and what did he do in his spare time while his siblings were being tortured as they tried to resist?”
Solea listened quietly, her face growing pale. “But he was there when the Conqueror was destroyed, wasn’t he? So at least he helped with that, right? He’s not happy about the Conquerors now, is he?”
“I don’t know. And honestly, I am not even sure whether I want to know.”
Solea looked at the necklace and felt her stomach drop. “So he is bad then?” she said in a strange voice.
“Never mind that,” Alainna said suddenly. “The other Black Swans seem to like him well enough now, so I suppose they have forgiven him and it doesn’t matter now. We should forgive him too.” She held up the necklace. “Should I wear this gift or not?”
“It is a cursed necklace and should be destroyed.”
“I am not going to do that,” Alainna said firmly. “Should I wear it or not?”
Archondid glanced at the necklace and hesitated. “If it does exactly what Uclepidies said it would do, then it might be useful. For example, if you had recognized that Uclepidies had suddenly and forcefully possessed Theron at the birthday ball, which he did, you would have had a second to run away from Theron, instead of getting attacked. Or you could have called out and startled him. Or you could have done something else to alert people that Theron had been violently possessed by Uclepidies. Having an extra second can be very useful at times.”
Alainna considered this and slipped on the necklace, carefully hiding it under her clothes. “There,” she said. “Though it seems a bit silly to hide such a pretty necklace.” Then she looked at Archondid. “Does Uclepidies think that someone is going to get possessed soon?”
Archondid shook his feathers. “It’s always a possibility.” When the girls looked at him strangely, he said to Alainna, “You are the Lady. You will meet Diamea. You will also meet the Conqueror. Those are both certainties. And, if everything goes well, you will lead Diamea to the Conqueror so that he can kill the Conqueror and destroy the Conqueror line forever. That’s what the prophecies seem to agree on. But, unless the Conqueror is willing to die — and who knows, that is always a possibility — the Conqueror may make some sort of last stand. So yes, it’s very possible that someone will get possessed soon.”
Solea suddenly froze. “A horrible thought just occurred to me,” she said very slowly. She looked up at Archondid strangely. “Why was Sergius the one who ordered my execution? Back when everyone thought that I was a Conqueror?”
“Because Sergius is the one who deals with serious Indeterminate cases that look like potential Conquerors,” Archondid responded blandly.
“And why is he so involved in this particular selection of teacher?”
Alainna’s face suddenly turned white. “And why is Uclepidies suddenly giving me a magical necklace that can detect possession — even though I humiliated him and rejected his last gift — and requesting that I wear it since it might be useful?”
Archondid didn’t respond.
In a tiny voice, Solea asked, “Archondid, is our new teacher a Conqueror?”
Archondid bowed once more. “Again, I am forbidden to say anything about the matter.”
Alainna groaned and sunk into a chair. “Oh no,” she moaned. “This is a terrible idea. How is this a good idea? This is a terrible idea. Why is this idea even under consideration?”
“Remember, you are going to meet the Conqueror one way or another,” Archondid reminded her gently. “That is guaranteed. You might as well be among friends when you do.”