WISH FULFILMENT, PART FIVE: Deep Thoughts
Being a magician, Simon had a fair understanding of the art of misdirection. And while he had lost sight of the elf Pelinelneth, he could still see the guard who had been intent on pursuing her. So he made a point of looking where the guard was not looking, figuring that the silver haired girl would try draw his attention away from her.
The difficulty was, even though the castle courtyard was large, there were still statues, shrubs, and even a few trees that could be used for concealment. Simon had to duck behind a shrub himself when the guard stopped and did a full scan of the area. He only poked his head up when he heard movement again – seeing that the guard had also heard the movement. It was coming from within the leaves of a small tree. The guard marched over and looked up. “Come down out of there!” he declared. The dense leaves merely rustled again.
Simon turned his attention back to where the guard wasn’t looking – and saw a flicker of long silver hair disappearing INTO the castle wall. With the guard still ranting at the tree, he hurried over as fast as he could. Up close, he could see there was a nearly invisible door, still slightly ajar. Beyond it was a staircase leading down into utter darkness. Before heading down, Simon fumbled in his pack, finding the flashlight. He then took the stairs two at a time.
He nearly ran into Pelinelneth at the bottom, as she had stopped, staring ahead into the pitch black. “Pelinelneth!” he hissed.
She had half turned already, and now nearly bolted at the sound, but once she saw it was him, she froze instead. Her eyes widened. “You have a portable light? It doesn’t even flicker!”
“Flashlight,” Simon said. “Also known as a torch.” He smiled. “Not as impressive as you making those tree leaves move.”
Pelinelneth gestured vaguely. “Elves have a certain connection with nature. We can also see better in low light than you.” Her eyes darted down again to the flashlight, and back up. “That said…” She stepped forwards and extended her hand, obviously hoping he would hand the device over.
Simon shook his head. “You want it, you’re stuck with me too. Now, you want to tell me why you and Chartreuse didn’t stick to the plan?”
She shrugged. “You were going to fail. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity, and we had the advantage of surprise. Your friend agreed with me.”
A frown tugged at Simon’s features. “Really? Because she seemed rather concerned about leaving you alone in here. For that matter, how did you know about this passageway? It seems well concealed from the outside.”
Pelinelneth opened her mouth, only to close it again. She reached up to tug at one of her ears. “I just did.”
“Then you’ve been in this castle before.”
“No. Yes. No. Shut up.”
Simon quirked up an eyebrow. “You’re not sure?”
“I said shut up.” She turned to look back down into the darkness of the passage.
Standing there in the ensuing silence, it occurred to Simon that perhaps Pelinelneth’s uncertainty was due to the memory block she’d described. She had no memory from before the start of the year – perhaps because she had been in this castle? Could being here previously be the reason her memory had been wiped in the first place? Of course, the elf might simply be lying to him. He was finding it increasingly hard to trust her.
After counting to twenty in his head, with Pelinelneth doing nothing but staring away from him, Simon decided he might as well speak up again. “We need to rescue Chartreuse.”
Pelinelneth sniffed. “She’s a girl. She can take care of herself.”
“If you do not answer our questions, we will throw you into the dungeon.”
Chartreuse cleared her throat. “See, here’s the thing,” she said. “The questions I do know how to answer, I either, you know, won’t, or actually it’s more likely you won’t, like, understand my answers. Whereas the questions I do not know how to answer, I obviously can’t. So, you know, there’s not much point asking me anything. You follow?”
The guard stared at her. He’d managed to snatch the frying pan away from the pink haired girl after only a momentary tug of war, and he now had her standing with her hands up, facing the lowered portcullis. He would have to wait for his comrade to return and raise it before bringing her inside. That shouldn’t take too long, but he’d rather hoped to have some answers before then. Which was looking increasingly unlikely. “What is Pelinelneth’s plan?”
“The elf who was with you. She ran inside.”
“See, I still think elves are the short people who work with Santa. Okay, possibly tall people if we’re talking about Buddy from that movie, which, true, tells us we shouldn’t, like, think all short people are elves, but let’s not get into Christmas in the middle of the summer. Okay? Now, what was your question again?”
The guard blinked. “I don’t remember.”
“Then can I have my frying pan back?”
“No.” The portcullis began to rise into the archway. He saw the girl tense, and reached out to grasp her by the shoulder, lest she bolt. “Forget it. You’re going to the dungeon until you learn to talk sense.”
“So your dungeon is like an English class?”
“Whether she can take care of herself or not, we’re not leaving her behind,” Simon declared. “Not this time.”
Pelinelneth blinked. “When else did you leave Chartreuse behind?”
“Not Chartreuse. Becky. I had to…” Simon made a gesture of dismissal. “Long story, not relevant to what we’re doing here. Point being, we’re going back for Chartreuse.”
The silver haired elf shook her head. “That would be really, REALLY stupid,” she countered. “Now that I’m in the castle, the place will be going on high alert. We have to locate the artifact while there’s still time!”
“Or, you know, whatever’s causing the wishing.”
Simon could tell she was verbally back-pedalling. He knew neither he nor Chartreuse had let on about there being an ‘evil object granting wishes’ – so how had Pelinelneth made that leap? He resolved to follow up. Later.
“Chartreuse could help us do that,” Simon pointed out. “She was able to get some sort of impression from the fountain area before we reached it. Same thing could happen here.”
The elf sighed. “Yeah, I’d much rather SHE be down here with me.” Pelinelneth crossed her arms. “Though I guess SHE’D be insisting on going after YOU!” She peered closer at Simon. “What IS it about you two, clinging to each other this way?”
Simon supposed that a part of it was the fact that they were facing the unknown together. In a world where they weren’t sure who else to trust. What he actually said was, “We’re a team.”
Pelinelneth continued to stare for a moment. “She said that too.” The elf turned away. “Though not like it’d be romance, you’re twice her age.”
“Not quite that old,” Simon began to protest, only to fall silent as the elf reached out and, pressing on a panel, opened another secret door in the wall. He shone the flashlight around the perimeter. “How did you even know that was there?”
The elf girl gave a resigned sigh. “The same way I know that at the end of this long passageway,” and she gestured down the original corridor, “there is someone who can help me. Or possibly destroy me.” Her hand slid down the new door and her gaze fell to the ground. “So I don’t know. And maybe I’m not ready to know yet.”
Simon tried to look at Pelinelneth’s face, but the way her long hair fell, his view now was partly obscured. “So where does this new passage go?”
There was a beat before she responded. “Ultimately? The dungeon. That’s where they’ll be taking your friend.”
Chartreuse had vaguely expected a medieval torture chamber. So when the dungeon turned out to merely be a stone cell with a heavy wooden door, she was somewhat relieved. “So, what, you, like, keep me here until I’m shouting ‘I’ll talk, I’ll talk’?” she asked.
The guard shoved her inside the room, making her stumble. “Usually,” he answered. “Except you talk too much. So we’ll only come for you if we don’t learn what we want some other way. ANY other way.”
“Well, that’s a bit–” The door slammed in her face, and she heard the sound of a keyring. “Rude,” she finished.
A chuckle came from behind her. “I’ll be glad of some company, at least.”
The pink haired teen managed to quash her urge to scream, merely turning around and stepping back until she was against the nearest wall, waiting desperately for her eyes to adjust to the low amount of light. She half expected to see a talking dragon, or a hulking man looking like he wanted to molest someone, so again, when it turned out to be a somewhat handsome looking guy wearing shackles, she felt a sense of relief. Still, she kept up her guard.
“Um, you get those bracelets for, you know, good behaviour?”
The man held his arms up. “These? No. They prevent me from doing magic. They’re carved with runes.”
“Ah. That’ll rune your day.”
He advanced on her and attempted to extend a hand, as if to shake. His shackles didn’t prevent the movement outright. “My name’s Qifarihm. I’m the wizard’s apprentice.”
Close up, Chartreuse noticed that he was probably older than Simon, with wisps of white in his darker hair. “I’m Chartreuse. Aren’t you a bit old to be, like, an apprentice?” She reached out a tentative hand to accept the handshake. His grip was surprisingly firm.
“I’ve wondered about that,” Qifarihm admitted. “But then, with the reality rewrites, perhaps I used to be a lot younger.”
The teenager let out a low whistle. “Then you’ve, like, heard about the wishing? Even deep down here?” As his grip relaxed a little, she pulled her hand free.
“Yes. It’s why I was imprisoned.” His brow furrowed. “I think.”
“You think therefore you are?”
Qifarihm smiled. “How very philosophical. No, I mean I think I was involved when this first began – but my memory has been blocked.”
Chartreuse blinked. “Oh! So do you have ANY memories from before this year? Or are you, you know, an underground person too?”
He tilted his head slightly. “I don’t quite follow what you mean. I’m not even sure where in the year we are. I’ve been down here for months. Perhaps even years.”
“Years?” Chartreuse said, eyes widening. Though that would explain the smell.
Qifarihm nodded. “Rather think the palace guards like throwing people in here with me. They hope that, in talking to me, others will lose all hope of escape.”
“OR you’ve been planted down here BY the guards to, like, learn stuff about the underground from me that they otherwise couldn’t,” Chartreuse realized. She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not stupid, you know. Granted, kinda unfocussed, but then, aren’t we all, sometimes?”
He managed to lift his hand to rub his chin. “That’s actually a good point. And I can’t think of anything I might say to convince you I’m sincere.” He stepped back. “As such, I’ll just hang back in the corner then, in the hopes you decide to trust me.”
Chartreuse nodded curtly, turning her attention back to the door. She swiftly determined that it was indeed locked, and seemed quite solid. There was a small barred window, which let in very little light, and it was a bit higher than Chartreuse could reach to see out. Listening, she couldn’t hear anyone – though if she was in here with a collaborator, why would they need anyone outside?
She looked back over her shoulder at Qifarihm, who seemed to be drawing little shapes in the air, to no effect. Perhaps Simon’s paranoia had rubbed off on her. Was there any reason NOT to trust this so-called wizard?
The female mystic frowned. They had taken away her frying pan, and her WristWatch device, and the crystals she’d been carrying – except for the one she’d managed to secrete away before they’d frisked her. She searched for it now, pulling it out before walking back to her fellow prisoner. “Here, let me check your aura,” she decided, holding the crystal up. “That will give me some sense of you at least.”
“All right,” he said, a bit bemused.
She circled the crystal around his head, closing her eyes, trying to allow herself to be receptive to any vibes he might be putting out. Almost immediately, she sensed that he meant her no harm. But there was something else there… something that she sensed she might be able to access, if only she could go a little deeper…
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