WISH FULFILMENT, PART FOURTEEN: Into Fire
Chartreuse was in the dungeon less than ten minutes after arriving at the castle. Simon came into her cell as soon as the guard who’d brought her there had departed. “That could have gone better,” he remarked. “I was kind of hoping you’d get to talk to the King.”
“It could have, you know, gone worse,” Chartreuse countered. “They might have taken me directly to Wanda.”
Fair point. “She’ll find out soon enough. Hopefully not until after dinner.” He glanced towards the cell door. “Where’s Azure?”
“Getting things into position. She was able to walk right past me and the guards, what with her magic card and me being distracting.”
Simon shifted his gaze down to the card pinned on his front, the one reading ‘Guard’. “I trust she’s being careful. I did say these cards don’t work once a person is concentrating directly on you, right?”
“I’m surprised they work at ALL,” Chartreuse admitted. She pulled her’s back out, which said ‘Ignore’, and pinned it in place. “It’s, you know, atypical on our world. But we’re aware. We even dealt with Joey, once he, like, saw through it at Pelinelneth’s place.”
Simon nodded. Time then to talk about what they hadn’t discussed over the comms. “So. Do you know what the artifact is?”
“A book,” Chartreuse said. “I can’t be more specific. I don’t know how Wanda can always have it on her person. Or how it’s granting the wishes of others if she’s always got it.” The pink haired teenager wrung her hands a little. “I’m sorry.”
Simon scratched his chin. “No, that’s okay. I can answer one of those. After getting a sense of Wanda’s daily routine, I crept back into her Sanctuary yesterday evening and found her crystal ball. There was a page of notes next to it – people’s wishes. She must be scrying and jotting them down, or recording them magically for later use or something.”
“Yeah? I’m surprised people are still, like, wishing at all, given the consequences.”
“I don’t know how old the list was. A wish is also the sort of thing one can blurt out accidentally. Though I wonder, perhaps Wanda’s removing weapons from the city so that there aren’t fatal consequences from some wishes? She doesn’t seem completely without a conscience.”
“Wanda’s not totally stable either,” Chartreuse countered. She then filled in a few gaps based on her journal reading.
Simon ultimately cut her off. “Sorry, but we’re short on time, and there’s one more thing I need you to do before the confrontation.” He glanced towards the wall of the cell, thinking about who was on the other side. “I need you to divine Ikky’s intentions.”
Chartreuse pursed her lips. “I’d, you know, wondered if you went to her again.”
“I did more than that. I showed her how to access her magic again.”
Chartreuse’s eyes went wide. “That seems REAL stupid. Uh, no offence. But when Ikky was Iklius he had, like, a total vendetta against Wanda! And we told Pel–”
“I know!” Simon extended his arms, palms up. He lowered his voice. “I know. But I have no magic. The magic that you and your sister have is primarily passive. I thought we’d need more, and I gambled that Wanda put Ikky down here for more than mere revenge.”
Chartreuse didn’t look happy. “And?”
“And Ikky’s magic is… useful.” Simon drew his hands back, putting them into his pockets. “She thought she’d lost it by becoming female. She didn’t realize that females needed a focus object to control their first spells.”
“Ikky’s not the smartest then?”
“It wasn’t relevant to her. Him. Her, when she was a him. Look, speaking as a man, we are occasionally oblivious. Except he had even more cause not to care.”
“Iklius had – has – cancellation magic. The ability to negate other spells. Meaning he couldn’t be magically harmed. And when one is verging on invulnerable, who cares what others are doing?”
“Wow.” Chartreuse turned to look at the wall of the cell now too. “So that’s why he was the least hurt at the incident that, you know, killed other people.”
“Probably. I suspect he was only hurt at all because he was caught off guard. It’s also why he could be a thorn in Wanda’s side afterwards, though I’m not sure to what extent she knows of his abilities. Moreover, it explains the sense of entitlement Iklius displayed, back in our replay of Wanda’s history.” Simon hesitated. “The ego that resulted might even be the reason for his rather disgusting treatment of… Simone.” He almost said ‘of me’, but in the end, felt like he had to displace the experience.
“That doesn’t excuse it.”
“No. No, it doesn’t. But his magic upbringing could explain it.” Simon rubbed his forehead. “At any rate, I didn’t tell Ikky that a woman’s focus object could be anything. I gave her my flashlight to attune herself to. It’s not like the technology exists on this world, so if it turns out she’s been lying to me, we take it away.”
“Like, lying to you about what?”
“About reforming.” Simon couldn’t help it, he began to pace back and forth. “Ikky says she’s gained a new appreciation for the struggle of others, particularly women, after this gender switching experience.”
“You bought that line?”
Simon stopped in place. “I don’t know. But she’s been locked in the dungeon for months! Even had to deal with Qifarihm talking down to her. When I found her, she seemed completely demoralized, and she’s seemed sincere about turning over a new leaf.” He resumed his pacing. “Hence why I want you to read her aura, or whatever it is you do. Please. If she DOES have her own agenda, we’ll leave her. It’s just – cancellation magic would be nice to have against Wanda.”
Chartreuse tugged at the large bow in her hair. “Fine. But Azure has most of my, you know, crystals, and a guard took the last two away.”
Simon nodded, and instead of pacing back this time, continued to walk all the way to the door. “Then I’ll get them.”
The castle courtyard had been decided on as the battle ground. For one thing, it was a fairly public space, so there were liable to be witnesses, meaning Wanda wouldn’t be able to spin the outcome later. For another, the open space meant there would probably be less collateral damage to the castle walls themselves, while the few statues and shrubs could still allow for cover.
Of course, Wanda didn’t know it would be the battle ground. But she would know soon enough. Azure laid down the last of the crystals, then went to one of the nearby trees. She jumped up, grabbed a branch, and hauled herself up into a sitting position. Sure, no one had spotted her yet, but that was no reason to stand out in the open.
Her eyes went to the wall, and the location of the secret door. She hoped that Simon or Chartreuse would emerge. She’d have to start soon, as the sun had nearly set, and backup would be really REALLY nice. Particularly in light of how Chartreuse had a better grasp of what needed to be done.
Not for the first time, Azure wondered about Alice. Sure, sending in people with primarily defensive or investigative capabilities made sense for a low key search and recover mission – but now that they were going up against a Royal Wizard, wasn’t it time to bring in the offensive team? Surely her sister’s firsthand experience wasn’t enough to keep her in command?
Yet here they were. Azure kicked her legs back and forth. She really hoped she’d be alive later, so that she could shout at someone about how screwed up this was.
Minutes past. Dusk fell. If it got much darker, fighting could be problematic. She should set off the signal. It was as Azure jumped back down out of the tree that she saw the secret door open, and two figures emerge. Her feeling of relief was momentarily arrested, as she realized there were actually three figures. Hopefully that was part of the plan?
Anyway, it was time. At some point over the last couple days, Chartreuse (coordinating with Simon via Alice) had soaked some pages in ammonium nitrate, or this world’s equivalent, and wrapped them up. (Yeah, so much for only paying attention to her sister’s sickness!) This meant that setting them alight would, in theory, produce a lot of smoke. Time to test that theory.
Azure made sure that the papers weren’t on the grass as she took a match to them. The result was hardly the smoke screen that she’d envisioned, but from the large plumes of smoke produced, it was obvious that something was going on. The few servants in the area were turning to look.
The younger Vermilion removed the ‘Ignore’ card from her pocket, and ripped it in two. Whatever “card magic” might have been protecting her from Wanda’s sights, that had, well, torn it. “Wanda!” Azure called out. “We need to talk!”
The servants ran off. Then the beam of a flashlight was trained onto her. Azure raised her hand to her forehead, squinting to see why Simon was blinding her, only able to discern that it was apparently the third (female?) figure from earlier who was doing it. “I don’t need the spotlight!” she protested.
“You totally do!” her sister called back from somewhere.
Fine, whatever. Azure crossed her arms, peering through the smoke, hoping they’d get through this before the sky had gone completely dark. Wanda seemed to be taking longer to get here than they’d planned for.
Azure never heard the approach. A voice behind her simply said, “I could have thrown a fireball at you just now.”
She spun. A woman dressed all in pink stood about five metres away. Her arms were crossed, and she did not look happy. Worse, next to her was that silver haired elf, who had an arrow pulled back, ready to fly from her bow. Were they working together again?
Her heart hammering in her chest, Azure heard herself say, “You also could have told your elf friend to fire her arrow, I guess I should be happy you’re on a non-violence kick?” One of these days, she’d find a better defensive mechanism than snide remarks.
Wanda smirked. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I could still banish you. ALL of you,” she added, glancing to the side, where the flashlight beam was coming from. “But doing so means you might not be the last visitors. I’m also curious as to what cancelled out my attempts to teleport you out of here.”
Azure’s stomach started twisting in knots. This woman had tried to abduct her? Had Chartreuse managed to foresee that?? Is THAT why they were shining a flashlight at her? No, how did that even make sense?? Azure forced herself to calm down. Whatever it was, it hadn’t worked. “Come over here and ask that,” she challenged.
Which wasn’t merely bravado. She really did want Wanda to come closer, on account of the way she’d aligned Chartreuse’s crystals earlier. The “Royal Wizard” was currently slightly out of range. Unfortunately, Wanda seemed perfectly content to stay there; Azure hoped it was coincidental.
“Never mind,” Wanda said dismissively. “Of more interest to me is the fact that you first showed up when your friends were in trouble. It’s occurred to me since then that I have an entire kingdom on my side. What do you have that could possibly compete?”
She was fishing. A fishing called Wanda. Azure fought the urge to giggle hysterically, and instead shifted gears. “Look, you showed my friends your past for a reason. Right? It was so that they could understand you. Help you. Yeah?” She took a step forwards, in the hope that Wanda would do the same. Again, no such luck.
“Actually,” Wanda admitted, “in light of what I had to go through, I expected your friends to die. And death in that vision would have killed them here too.”
The more Wanda spoke in controlled, measured tones, the more Azure wanted to scream, or run away. Having the bow and arrow pointed at her didn’t help matters. “Ouch. Well, how about we shake hands and call it even?” she asked, extending her arm invitingly.
Wanda chuckled. “No.” Her smile became twisted. “At this point, I’m satisfied. Whoever you are, you are no match for me.”
Her wrists flicked, and in the time it took to blink, two fireballs had formed above the cards that she held. One was fired off towards the source of the flashlight beam. The other was thrown directly at Azure’s face.
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