There was a bright flash of light, and then a sudden darkness. Simon blinked open his eyes and looked around.
He was sitting in a giant cavern, much like the circular room he’d appeared in at first, but made of natural stone. Surrounding him on all sides were tiny houses and churches and citadels, with tiny people swarming out of their homes and waving and shouting excitedly in tiny high-pitched voices. Their clothes were complicated and ornate, their houses covered in detailed, tiny mosaics.
What had he been doing just before this? He searched his mind for the last thing he remembered. There had been an argument, there was always an argument, but he’d been sure it would work this time-
A tiny woman shouted something at him through a megaphone. At least he thought she was a woman, she was wearing a dress and a whole amethyst crystal on her head like a crown. He stared at her blankly, and caught sight of something on his wrist – he could call Alice!
“Alice? Do you know where I am?”
“Oh, sure. You’re at your new assignment.”
“What do you mean my new assignment?”
“This one is more important, so I reassigned you. You can come back to the other one if they don’t solve it without you.”
“Ours is not to question why, ours is just to do and die.”
“That isn’t even a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference.”
“Well, you’re in the wrong book for that now, aren’t you?”
“I don’t even know what you mean.”
“Show them a card trick and try not to die. Your job is to warn them about the invasion. Have fun!”
With a scowl, Simon pulled out his deck of cards and began shuffling them. He’d known working for Alice was frustrating, but this was taking it to a whole new level. His team was back there, on that other world, and he was – he didn’t even know where he was.
There was an art to magic. It involved speedy reflexes, nimble fingers, and not having a thousand eyes focused on you with your cards being as tall as a person.
Simon heard a distinct voice yell to a friend, “Here, he’s got the card behind his hand! I seen it!”
“Everyone seen it, Joey,” retorted the friend. “You think he’s mad?”
“Has to fry your brain being that big. Why do you think he’s that big? Did he eat something wrong, like one of those little potions everyone knows not to drink?”
“Queeny’ll sort it out. That’s her job, queening.”
Simon was not incredibly sexist, but he’d recently had very firm and negative experience with a female authority figure. He eyed the stern woman in the red silk handkerchief and amethyst crown more warily. Her shouting was becoming harder and harder to understand, along the lines of ‘if you yell very fast at someone who doesn’t speak your language, they’ll definitely understand you.’
It was at this point that someone shot him with a miniature grappling gun. Simon hoped everyone else was having better luck than he was today.
TO BE CONTINUED?
The crazy, zany, and completely NOT CANON! interlude you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2015 Edition. The mindblowing gag post you’ve just read was written by Lucy Weaver, who normally writes the story Tapestry, found at: http://www.wysteriaclimbing.com/tapestry.
Gregory Taylor, who normally writes this story, today has created their own piece of tomfoolery for Legion of Nothing found at: http://inmydaydreams.com/.
For a full list of all our April Fool’s Swappers and their stories, as well as dozens of other serial novels that will tickle your fancy, check out The Web Fiction Guide at:
WISH FULFILMENT, PART SIXTEEN: Alternative Reality
As soon as Chartreuse collapsed, Simon ran over to her. He felt for a pulse, relieved to find that she still had one. They’d been pretty sure that she would end up in Wanda’s vision once the field was activated, so presumably (hopefully) that was the case. Having verified that Chartreuse might have a mild burn, but was otherwise okay, Simon looked up at Ikky. She’d followed over after him. “Keep an eye on her?” he requested, before heading to where Azure and Pelinelneth were standing by Wanda.
Azure held up a necklace, with what looked like a tiny book on it. “The elf says this is the evil thing,” she remarked.
Simon nodded, noticing that her arm was shaking. “Are you okay?”
“Hell no!” Azure shot back, pulling her arm back down as her look became a glare. “I got FIRED at! Literally! What’s my hazard pay?” Simon barely had time to shrug, before she continued with, “And what about my sister??” She thrust her arm out again, pointing towards Chartreuse.
“She seemed okay – how long does a vision usually last?”
Azure snorted. “Time dilates. You might as well ask what number I’d roll on a die. So, pay?”
“Ahem. Wanda’s safety is still guaranteed, right?” Pelinelneth asked, breaking back in.
Simon turned to the elf, deciding he had a better chance with that conversation. “Yes. As long as she acts reasonably once she regains consciousness.”
Pelinelneth nodded. Her eyes tracked to the pendant. “And once you take that away… do I disappear?”
Simon found he could only shrug again. “Let me call Alice,” he decided. When in doubt, consult one’s superiors? He tapped at his watch.
Before there was any response, Wanda stirred, and from near Chartreuse, Ikky called out, “She’s awake!” Azure reflexively took several steps backwards. Simon held his ground, warily watching Wanda. The Royal Wizard didn’t make any immediately aggressive moves. She almost seemed to be… crying? Pelinelneth bent down, putting an arm around the brunette.
“No killing!” Chartreuse called out. Simon turned, in time to see Ikky help his partner off the ground. “Wanda’s gonna, you know, work with us!”
“Killing?” Simon asked. That had only been their last resort, after bargaining, physical restraint, and for that matter, somehow using a wish themselves. Chartreuse and Ikky approached, the younger girl pointedly glancing from him to the blonde woman and back.
It clicked. Ikky, formerly Iklius, had a vendetta against Wanda. They had said that Wanda might get hurt. Ikky could have been hoping for that. For that matter, if all the wishes here reverted, would Iklius revert? As a male, with a renewed spirit, would he then make good on his desire for vengeance? Chartreuse had sensed something with Ikky. She hadn’t been able to put it into words. That could have been it.
At a loss for what to say for a third time, Simon was glad to hear Alice respond. He became less glad at what she said. “If someone’s dead, don’t tell me much!” came the voice from his watch. “Better chance of me fixing it that way!”
“We’re not dead. In fact, we’ve got the artifact,” Simon reported. “It’s a book.”
There was a breath of relief. “Awesomesauce! I’ll open up a portal.”
“Wait – what happens here when we remove the artifact?” Simon asked. “Do the wish results remain?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t they?”
“Well then, that leaves their town in a bit of a state.” For that matter, even if the wishes WERE cancelled, it would be an issue.
“Not our problem!” Alice said, her tone far too chipper. “Their world, let them deal.”
“They can’t!” Simon objected. “We’ve put their Royal Wizard into withdrawal, we had a hand in turning their former Wizard into a statue, and the only local left who knows what’s going on is technically an escaped prisoner.” He glanced at Ikky out of the corner of his eye.
“Oh.” Alice paused. “Can you get your team somewhere private? I don’t feel like explaining myself multiple times.” Simon frowned.
They helped Pelinelneth bring Wanda back to the Wizard Sanctuary. The elf said she’d keep an eye on Ikky while Snowball (Wanda’s pink unicorn) monitored the Wizard’s condition – they couldn’t yet tell if Wanda’s presently withdrawn emotional state was solely due to the future vision, or if it was the onset of withdrawal after being separated from The Book.
Simon, Chartreuse and Azure then relocated to a small room next door.
“The Epsilon Project,” Alice explained, her voice coming through on Simon’s communicator watch. “Our last, best place for hope. This Hub is a self-regulating station, tracking right and wrong, located in neutral–”
“If it’s self-regulating, why do you have to stay there?” Azure demanded.
A pause. “Okay, the system’s not perfect,” Alice admitted. “It’s self-regulating in the sense that it can identify it’s own errors and tell me about them. Usually.”
“Also, where was our backup? My sister’s burned! And are we getting paid?”
“Azure,” Chartreuse said reproachfully. “I’m okay, and Alice and her crew were trying to, you know, help people!”
“Yeah, but it’s people who weren’t US,” the younger Vermilion shot back.
A sigh came over the communications link. “Fine,” Alice said. “You want me to admit that I’ve screwed up? Then yes, I’ve screwed up. Perhaps we should have pulled your team out, once it became obvious that this wasn’t a simple search and extract mission. Certainly we should have gotten better data on Chartreuse’s sister, as she asks too many questions. Though I guess she’s not as bad as the gaffe made last mission.”
“Why, what happened then?” Simon asked, speaking up to prevent Azure from doing so. Plus, he was curious. Also worried.
“Oh, one of their team was copyright of the BBC in the universe they went to. We should have screened for that better, so now on top of everything, we have to avoid getting sued. Two missions in, and it’s like Terminator 2 – I need a vacation.”
“You don’t sound bothered,” Azure grumbled.
“You don’t know me,” Alice said, her normally carefree tones immediately becoming more subdued.
“We’re straying from the point,” Simon decided. He glanced at Chartreuse. “Uh, what was the point?”
“MY point,” Alice cut back in, spirits seemingly restored. “Is that MY job is to react to dimensional anomalies. That’s the whole reason for the Epsilon Project. But at the same time, it’s the EPSILON Project! Making next to zero alterations! Not the Delta Project, which would be all about incremental change.”
“Wait, dimensional anomalies?” Chartreuse asked.
“Supernatural bleed through. Stuff that’s not where it’s supposed to be. For instance, in our first case, someone named Lissa Jous was influencing another dimension through someone’s dreams. In your case, the wishing artifact doesn’t belong in that fantasy dimension, it came from… well, I don’t know exactly. Likely one of the worlds adjacent to Death Note Central. We’ll do some resonance scans to pinpoint it.”
“Oh! So your Project is trying to, like, keep one type of Alternate Earth from affecting another,” Chartreuse decided.
“But,” Simon objected, “you can’t simply remove something like the Wish Book from here and expect that doing so will have a negligible impact. Not once it’s been around for months!”
“Contrarily, if it had been there for less time, it wouldn’t have registered with us,” Alice stated. “Sometimes, you can’t get around paradox. But now that you’ve GOT it, you all need to GO. Like I said to Simon earlier today, we have to trust that things will naturally get back on track!”
Simon looked at the Vermilion sisters. “It feels wrong,” he said, suspecting that his own expression was a mirror to theirs.
“I get that,” Alice answered. “Look, how about this. I’ll open a portal – send Azure through to me, with the artifact. You and Chartreuse can stay until midnight. In the meantime, I’ll consult with God, to see if there’s anything here I’m missing. We DO hope you’ll be willing to sign up with us on a more permanent basis, after all.”
She continued without waiting for acknowledgement. “All I ask is, please, PLEASE, don’t start any revolutions, and for goodness sakes, don’t make any promises we can’t keep!!” The connection clicked off. Just as well, because Simon wasn’t sure what more he could have said.
“Hello!” Ikky said brightly as Simon and Chartreuse walked back into the Sanctuary. “Have we met?”
“Ikli!” Pelinelneth said. “Could you alphabetize the lower bookshelf for me? Me and Snowball need to have a word with our guests.” Ikky (Ikli?) nodded, Pelinelneth guiding Simon and Chartreuse away from her, with Snowball trotting over to join them. Wanda, Simon noticed, had moved up to the bed. She now looked to be asleep.
“Yeah. Us, fixing things,” Snowball stated. “It seemed like you were going to leave. Or did you have some plan? Where’s the blue haired girl anyway?”
“She’s returning the artifact,” Simon said. “As to a plan…” He exchanged an uneasy glance with Chartreuse before shaking his head. “No.”
“Good. I’d be suspicious of one anyway,” Snowball admitted. “Even if you did fix the wish thing, you’re obviously not locals.”
“So what did you do?” Simon asked.
“We got Wanda to give Iklius a memory wipe,” Pelinelneth murmured. She seemed troubled, but whether it was from that spell occurring, or merely from admitting it to them, Simon couldn’t say. “Because of Ikli’s natural resistance, it knocked Wanda out completely, but it worked. We’ve told Ikli that she lost her memory due to being hit on the head.”
Chartreuse’s eyes widened. “That’s horrible!”
“No, no, it’s the same spell that I had, back when I told Wanda I wanted to be let out of the castle,” Pelinelneth added. “Harmless, really.”
“But her MEMORIES!”
“Keep your voice down,” Snowball snapped. “Look. We need Ikli’s help. She’s one of the few who can use her power to easily cancel out the more severe wishes, yet she didn’t seem inclined to help us willingly. Besides, this way she won’t remember being in prison, or the deaths of her friends. That’s good, right?”
Simon’s gaze drifted over to where the blonde woman was rearranging books. “Except won’t she simply cancel out your memory wipe?”
“That’s the sticking point,” Pelinelneth admitted. “But Wanda had already started working on the problem, while Ikky – Ikli – was in prison. She was hoping for triple redundancy, a spell, a charm and a false memory… we currently have two out of three, and it seems to be working. Besides, we told her the loss was natural causes.”
“No. I don’t like it,” Chartreuse said, biting her lip. “Are you sure you didn’t, you know, explain that–”
“Chartreuse. It’s not our call,” Simon reminded her. Though truth be told, he didn’t feel happy with this idea either. Playing with someone’s mind, without permission? Worse, Ikky wouldn’t have been subjected to this if he hadn’t taken her out of her cell! It was Qifarihm all over again! Or was it? If Wanda had already planned to do this… Simon shook his head, aware he was now rationalizing away his own involvement.
“Meanwhile,” Snowball said. “Pelinelneth has some illusion and nature magic, enough to prop Wanda up until she feels able to continue on in her role in the castle.”
“And if she doesn’t feel up to it?” Chartreuse challenged. “What if withdrawal makes her go nuts?”
“We’ll hold a Wizard trial for a replacement.” Snowball managed the horse equivalent of a shrug.
Chartreuse opened her mouth to object again, but then couldn’t seem to find any words. And Simon realized it was as Alice had said: The people of this world were picking up the pieces without their help. Had she known that would happen? Had she known HOW it would happen? He grimaced, but also said nothing as Pelinelneth turned and went back to talk with Ikli.
There were still problems here. But what could they do to solve them, aside from get out of the way? On the bright side, Simon supposed that the place was overall better off for their having been here. Wasn’t it? He glanced at Chartreuse, wondering what had been in her future vision… then wondering if she should do another one. They had changed things for the better here, right?
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.”
WANDA (approx) (apologies to R.O.D.)
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.
Chartreuse exchanged a glance with her younger sister. Then she looked back across the room to Joey Frankson, the teenager who had, moments ago, burst into Pelinelneth’s home. And pointed a crossbow at the two of them.
Chartreuse supposed Joey had cause to do it. After all, Pelinelneth had told them that a “Joey” was part of her town’s underground, a group of individuals with no memory of the time before the wishes had become common knowledge. This had to be the same person, now wondering about the new people in Pelinelneth’s home. But Chartreuse knew she and Simon were juggling enough balls in the air – better to get rid of Joey. But how?
“I’m, you know, Pelinelneth!” Chartreuse called out to him. “Like, put that away!”
The dark haired boy blinked. “You’re no elf!”
“Right, I, you know, got tired of the Santa connection, and accidentally wished I could be more like the pretty new girl who came into town, and so now I look like her.”
He frowned, and his crossbow dipped a little. “Seriously? Then what’s my last name?”
Chartreuse wondered if that was a trick question. “Frankson.”
“And who brought the snacks to our last gathering?”
That question was harder. “Louie the Leprechaun,” Azure stated. Chartreuse turned to look at her sister again, and saw that Azure had grabbed the deck of cards sitting on the floor, and performed what could only be termed as a hasty reading. She seemed to have cut the deck, turned up the jack of clubs, and divined the name from that. Though her shrug implied she wasn’t sure.
Chartreuse looked back at Joey. His crossbow was now pointed at the floor. “Fine,” he said, seemingly convinced. “So is she one of us too?” He motioned at Azure. “And are you bringing her to tonight’s meeting?”
“Like, sure,” Chartreuse said, amiably. “See you there, okay?”
“Okay,” Joey concluded. He turned and walked back up the stairs. Maybe the underground wouldn’t have been too hard to infiltrate.
“Nice work,” Azure said. Then she made a face. “Except now the song ‘Louie Louie’ is stuck in my head! What do these lyrics even MEAN?”
“I don’t know, but we do gotta go,” Chartreuse said. “After I, you know, tell Alice to tell Simon that you’re doing better.”
Simon had been able to consider their next move for a couple of days now. Doing so while hiding out in the dungeon hadn’t even been as bad as he’d thought. True, it wasn’t great for comfort, particularly at night – but there was a small washroom down the hall, presumably for guards, which he’d been able to sneak into. Actually, he’d been surprised to find that, despite the fantasy setting, certain scientific style advances did exist.
For instance, along with the makings of indoor plumbing, the couple times Simon had gone through the kitchen, they’d seemed to have devices capable of mixing that ran on – magical batteries? He hadn’t really been in a position to ask. And as Chartreuse had pointed out at some point, Wanda’s journal had been pencil to paper, not ink to parchment. There had to be a magical reason for these sorts of advancements, right?
Simon had asked Alice, but she seemed to know even less about this world than they did. “You’re there to identify – and ideally recover – an evil artifact,” she had stated yesterday. “Don’t make that more complicated than it needs to be.”
Alice didn’t seem to realize that it was already complicated. If they recovered (or destroyed) the artifact, would all the wishes simply revert? What about things like Qifarihm becoming a statue? That hadn’t been a wish, that had been a spell. So if Wanda’s wish to be the Royal Wizard was undone, who would take her place, if not him? Conversely, if some wishes were not undone, might Wanda remain in a position of power – suffering from withdrawal? What orders might she give in that state?
No, it was no longer a matter of taking the artifact and leaving. Simon was pretty sure a new spell or – dare he consider it – a wish would be necessary to put the town back on track. He said as much to Alice, when she called to tell him that Azure had made a full recovery.
At first, there was only silence on the line. “Look,” Alice finally said. “You may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Simon frowned. “What?”
“Oh, right. Seriously, read the book!” Alice accused. “What I mean is, you’re one guy, in one town, on one continent, on one world, in one universe, out of an entire multiverse. Nothing you do there will cause Federations to collapse or galaxies to explode. To be blunt, you’re not that important.”
“I don’t believe that,” Simon fired back. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have sent us down here in the first place!”
Another pause. “Touche. But up here,” Alice said. “THIS is where we’re making a difference. Patching up the cracks, so that one little town can flourish, and not end up getting bombed into oblivion by a neighbour state, scared by the whole wish thing.”
Simon allowed himself a moment to digest that scenario. “Is that seriously what would happen without us?”
“I don’t know. God doesn’t give me all those details.”
Simon did a double take, wondering if he’d misheard. “God?”
Alice’s tone became wistful for a moment. “Well, that’s how I think of her.” She cleared her throat. “My point being, short of staying there on a permanent basis and starting a movement, you can’t put the town on track. We have to trust that it will happen naturally, once we remove the offending element.”
Simon shook his head. “That’s a lot to accept on faith.”
“It is. Would it help if I told you that everything worked out well the last time, after we recovered Lissa Jous?”
“Not really, because I don’t know what that means.”
“Nor do you know what it means when I quote Hitchhikers at you. But on some level, it’s reassuring, right?”
“Uh. I guess?” Simon wondered when he’d lost control of the conversation.
“Awesome sauce. So, any message to send back to Chartreuse?”
Simon thought about that. All of their communications had to be routed through Alice – if there was a way to use his communicator to contact Chartreuse directly, he didn’t know of it. Which meant that their separate discoveries were being transmitted through Alice’s pop culture filter. More to the point, it meant that Alice knew everything they shared. Which is why he hadn’t shared everything. He suspected the same of Chartreuse.
It wasn’t that he felt Alice to be untrustworthy. It was that, even after this latest discussion, he still wasn’t certain about her agenda.
“Tell Chartreuse to arrive before sundown. I’ll be watching,” Simon concluded. Then, once the communication channel had been closed, he left the hiding place of his cell, crossing the dungeon in order to speak with Ikky again.
Chartreuse glanced around the corner. She was in was the same alley that she and Pelinelneth had used for a hiding place, thirty paces away from the castle archway. Now she was here with her sister. And without a frying pan. Chartreuse chewed on her lower lip for a moment.
“Time to storm the castle?” Azure asked.
She couldn’t put it off any longer. “You need to, like, know a few other things first,” Chartreuse said. “In particular, the contents of Wanda’s journal.” She took in a deep breath. “Even the parts I, like, don’t want to tell you about.”
“Finally!” Azure smiled. “Or should I act surprised? It’s just you’ve had that look ever since I woke up.”
Chartreuse frowned. “What look?”
“The one you get after you’ve visioned into the future and seen something you wish you hadn’t seen.”
“Ah. Um, maybe, but this is, like, the past…” A thought struck her. “Do you ever, you know, see something in someone’s past that you wish you hadn’t?”
The side of Azure’s mouth twitched. “Seriously, sis? Only ALL THE DAMN TIME. Why the heck do you think I avoid using my ability? Only to seem ‘normal’?” As she spoke, she did the air quotes. “That said, when I do see something, and it looks bad, I just have to think – someone who’s been through that is still alive! Focus on the positive, you know?” She crossed her arms. “Now hurry up and tell me about this Wanda, or I’ll read your history and get it that way.”
Chartreuse blinked at Azure’s abrupt manner. But then, she’d always been the more direct one, out of the two of them. So, with a nod, Chartreuse told her.
About how Wanda had gone into magic despite her mother’s protests. How constant reading had led to Wanda adopting paper as her focus point. How she’d invented an imaginary elf friend for encouragement. How she’d decided to demonstrate her potential by mastering one of the Elemental Powers – fire. How she’d come to town, to try and become the Wizard’s Apprentice, as soon as she’d heard about the opening. Perhaps too soon in her self-training.
Since that was how she’d killed two people when a bunch of boys had ganged up on her after the trials.
It hadn’t been intentional. She’d lost control. Qifarihm had then taken her in – which Wanda thought was more to keep an eye on her than for her actually winning the competition – which kept her from ending up in prison. And he’d then given her meaningless jobs to perform, to prevent further magical outbursts, while simultaneously trying to convince her that she wasn’t up to the task of doing more.
And after five years of that, Wanda had wondered if jail might have been preferable.
“Or that’s, you know, the vibe I got,” Chartreuse noted. “Her entries became less frequent, and she seemed to be trying to, like, generalize. To figure out how to make people believe in the ability of ALL females to do powerful magic.”
“She didn’t want anyone else to have to go through a history like hers.”
“Essentially.” And then one day, out in the woods, she’d found the artifact. A book. A book that made wishes come true.
“What, you write something in this book and it becomes reality?” Azure asked.
“Probably?” Chartreuse mused. “Except you can’t, like, erase the wish after it’s written. It wasn’t really clear. Maybe Wanda was, you know, losing her grip on reality too. She wrote hardly anything in the journal after that discovery. The last entry was about her becoming, like, Royal Wizard.”
“Huh.” Azure looked towards the castle. “So that’s who I’m up against.”
“Who WE’RE up against.”
“Your magic plan has me in a starring role.”
“I wish it didn’t.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence!”
“You know what I mean,” Chartreuse snapped. She winced at her tone. “Sorry. I’m just worried. Though, I got the vibe that Simon has, like, another possibility, but he didn’t want to say it through Alice. So the first thing we have to do is reunite with him.”
“Meaning NOW we storm the castle?”
“Yeah. Kinda. Put on your cowl and, you know, follow me.” They hadn’t wanted to waste Alice’s power reserves sending in new clothing for Azure; the robe Chartreuse had found in Pelinelneth’s closet helped to hide not only Azure’s outfit, but also her outward appearance.
Chartreuse stepped out of the alleyway. She walked purposefully up to the guards on duty, not attempting to disguise her approach, and only glancing back once to make sure Azure was still following. One of the guards levelled a sword at her as she approached, the other one stepping back, presumably so that he might call for backup.
“Hi!” Chartreuse said brightly. “I’m a mystical girl from a foreign land, come to fix your wishing problem. Can I please speak with your, you know, King?”
“Splitting the party has to be one of the stupidest ideas you’ve ever had.”
“Glad you’re, you know, feeling better.”
Chartreuse sounded tired. Azure frowned. She didn’t sit up again though – that had hurt. Instead, the blue haired girl decided to stop ragging on her sister and actually take stock of what had been happening around them lately. This was surprisingly harder to do than she’d initially anticipated, so she decided to return to her first really solid memories.
She had survived her first year of high school. Yay. It was now – or had been – summer vacation. The Vermilion family hadn’t been called upon to do any summer missions, and to her delight, her parents hadn’t insisted on doing any family bonding exercises in July either. Well, they hadn’t yet.
Then, that afternoon, Chartreuse had phoned for advice about seeing the past. Then, someone named Alice had phoned, saying that Chartreuse was in trouble. Although she’d wondered if it was a prank call, Azure had answered truthfully – she would help her sister, if she was seriously the only one who could.
She’d then found herself in a cylindrical room, feeling dizzy.
“You’ll need to break her out of a spell,” came a woman’s voice. Azure recognized the sound as being ‘Alice’ from the phone, and tracked the noise to a pair of legs sticking out from an open computer panel against the side wall. Alice was wearing jeans and running shoes.
“Who?” Azure wondered, dazedly. She took a step, but nearly fell over, so decided to just stand there and regain her equilibrium.
“Chartreuse. And Simon,” the legs explained. “I’m modifying this up to ‘port you in next to them. I think. Yeah, this should work. But! It means I won’t have the power to do much afterwards. So don’t expect any more backup for a while.”
“Can’t back up, only moving forwards,” Alice countered, finally shoving herself out from underneath the bank of computers. She was a brunette. She stood and hit enter on a keyboard. There was a rumble, the room began to vibrate somehow, and moments later a chevron lit up on the floor. There was a huge ring device there, which Azure hadn’t noticed.
“Wait, what spell?”
“Beats me,” Alice said. “Tenuous mental connection. But breaking it should be obvious. Just be FAST, I don’t know how much time you’ll have.” She walked over and held out some sort of watch device.
A second chevron lit up, then a third. Azure narrowed her eyes. “Did our mom put you up to this?”
Things got much more jumbled after that. Azure remembered going through the portal, seeing a surprised elf girl, saving her sister and some older guy, seeing a magical pony, learning about a dangerous witch, activating her magic, and nearly throwing up in a corridor. Her stomach gurgled a bit at that last memory.
Except she wasn’t in a corridor now, she was in a bed.
A bed in what had looked like a kitchen. Though Azure granted that she might have misinterpreted the scene when she’d decided to sit up. In fact the only thing about the room that she’d been sure of, is that Chartreuse had been the only other person there. Yet when she’d asked about the other guy, Simon, her sister had said they’d left him behind in the castle.
Seriously, when you’re up against a hostile witch, why would you split the party?
Having decided that this was as much as she’d get from her memories, Azure spoke up again. “How long have I NOT been feeling better?”
Azure sat bolt upright at that, ignoring the pangs in her temples. “Three DAYS?”
“It’s my fault,” Chartreuse said quietly. “I’m sorry.”
Azure squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them again. Okay, they weren’t quite in a kitchen, it was more like an all purpose room of some sort. In, seemingly, a basement. “Don’t be sorry, be… explainy,” Azure requested.
Chartreuse let out a breath, standing up from her chair. “When I first came to this world, it, like, took me a full day to align my aura to… you know, wherever this is. I didn’t try major crystal divinations in that time.” She began to pace, not meeting her sister’s gaze. “Yet within moments of arriving, you had to, like, disrupt powerful magic, then create an image to allow us to hide from Wanda. Your body couldn’t take it.” She sniffled. “I should have realized. I’m–”
“If you say sorry, I WILL slap you,” Azure cut in. She hated when Chartreuse got upset. Not only was it out of character for the older girl, it meant that Azure couldn’t simply snipe at her without feeling guilty. “You’re not psychic, only semi-clairvoyant.”
“Which wasn’t good enough. It’s, you know, why you had to be brought here.”
Azure grabbed her pillow and heaved it at her sister. She smiled as it scored a direct hit on the back of Chartreuse’s head, forcing the other girl to look at her. “Stop it! Explainy. Here is where?”
“I don’t really know. Like, an alternate Earth?”
Azure rolled her eyes. She’d presumed as much. “Here this ROOM is where?”
“Oh. Pelinelneth’s place in town. Didn’t seem like she’d be, you know, using it.”
“Elf girl. Wanda’s imaginary friend, made real by a wish. Shot at Simon with an arrow.”
“Right.” Azure thought back over the last few remarks. It helped that her headache was disappearing. “You said you were on this Earth for a full day to align your aura? But I saw you this morning. That is, the same morning you and Alice phoned me.”
Chartreuse picked up the pillow from the floor and came back to sit in the chair. “Possibly time passes here at a different, you know, rate? All I know is Alice initially told me that I could be back home in time for, like, supper.”
Azure mused again. She decided to be blunt. “If Alice knew you’d need time to adjust, she’d have known it for me. In fact, she told me I’d have to be fast, and in retrospect, I don’t think she said it because of Peleline– Pelnino– the elf’s immobilization field.” She crossed her arms. “I don’t trust this Alice. How long have you known her?”
“Not long. Only since I was, you know, first brought here.”
“She needed help! Our family provides help! Besides, Alice’s, you know, aura seemed a lot better than some of the guys from the Canadian government we’ve dealt with in the past.” She sighed. “Anyway, moot point. We’re here now, and we need Alice’s help to communicate back with Simon.”
“Oh yeah. Remind me why leaving him behind was a good idea?”
“You needed to be cared for. I didn’t, like, think that would be possible in the castle. But we, you know, needed to keep someone on the inside, since we’ll have to get back in. To get the evil artifact away from Wanda.”
“Evil artifact. Check. Did we get an artifact too? Is this like high stakes ‘Capture the Flag’?”
To Azure’s relief, Chartreuse half smiled. “No.”
“Too bad.” The younger Vermilion swung her legs over the edge of the bed. “So what’s happened the last three days?”
“I’ve, like, read through Wanda’s journal.”
“Been very, um, unsettled.”
“You’ve done nothing else??”
“I’ve cared for you. I’ve cooked badly.”
Azure made a dismissive gesture. “No news there. What about from this Simon, what have you heard?”
Chartreuse hesitated. “That’s where things get a bit more, you know, interesting.”
In fleeing from the Wizard’s Sanctuary, Simon recalled that, in the dungeon, three cell doors had been closed – and he’d only investigated the cell with Chartreuse. Whatever the other two cells were being used for, they’d probably make for a good hiding place. After all, he still had the keys to get into them, and it was probably the last place Wanda would look.
Once he’d found his way to the dungeon through conventional corridors, he’d discovered that the first locked room was a storage area of some sort. There were some sacks of flour and other foods – as well as a few bladed weapons. He wondered whether it was smart keeping a small armoury so close to actual prisoners. Then he remembered that Wanda had been removing weapons from the town, so maybe some guards were concealing the items down here. It made him feel better about his choice of hiding places.
The second room contained a person.
It caught Simon by surprise, as with all the noise they’d made in their earlier jailbreak, he’d have thought any other prisoners would have spoken up. But when he swung open the door, there she was, curled up in the corner. Her head rested against the wall, knees drawn in to her chest. Her long, dirty blonde hair was tangled about her shoulders, and she was wearing a faded dress. She seemed to be about his age, maybe older.
She looked up at him with blue eyes. For some reason, she seemed vaguely familiar. “You’re not the usual guard,” she murmured.
“I’m… not a guard,” was all Simon could think to say.
“You look like a guard.”
Simon looked down at his outfit, which definitely did not look like an official uniform – allowing him to spot the card that Azure had pinned onto his chest. The one that had the word ‘Guard’ scribbled onto it.
“Wait, no you don’t. Who are you?” She slightly uncurled. Simon made a mental note to not allow anyone to get more than a brief look at him.
“I’m the nephew of a guard,” Simon hedged, trying to figure out why she seemed familiar. “Who are you?”
She blinked back at him. “Iklius,” she answered. She curled back up. “Or call me Ikky, like the others. I don’t care any more.”
Simon felt like a hand was simultaneously squeezing at his heart while punching him in the gut. For a moment, he couldn’t move. Because her features were JUST similar enough for it to be true. For this to be the same boy who had tried to tear at his clothing, and later punch him in the face. When he’d been in Wanda’s spell. When he’d been a girl. Now Iklius was the girl – woman – while he was the man. Simon frowned. Gender was confusing.
“I… I’ve heard of you,” Simon managed. “Wanda turned you into a woman?”
“I turned MYSELF into one,” Ikky said bitterly. “A few months ago, when I wished I could understand Wanda better. It was supposed to show me how I could come after her, to avenge my friends! Not turn me into this!”
“Oh,” Simon said. His lips pursed. He couldn’t resist asking, “Do you at least understand Wanda better?”
“I’m just glad I can’t be put in the same cell as that Qifarihm any more! And if you’re here asking about his escape, I don’t know anything!”
“I’m not here about his escape. He’s a statue now anyway.”
“Oh. Well good,” Ikky said. There was a pause. “So why ARE you here? You do sound kind of familiar.”
“Just checking on you,” Simon said. And he’d closed the cell door again.
“He left her in JAIL?” Azure said, aghast. “Okay, I don’t think I trust your Simon either.”
“First, he’s not my Simon,” Chartreuse said in mild irritation. “Second, it’s not that simple. You don’t, like, know what this woman did when she was a man – I do. I’ve read the journal. And we promised Pelinelneth that we’d minimize Wanda’s suffering, so, like, releasing someone who’s got a vendetta against her didn’t seem wise.” She paused. “Particularly given how badly that went the first time.”
Well, Azure thought, the final remark saved her from bringing up whatever had happened with Qifarihm. So she decided to drop it. For now. “Has Simon passed on any other info through Alice?”
“He’s mapped out the castle a little better,” Chartreuse said. “And he has a sense of when Wanda’s got, you know, duties and stuff. We think our next step is–”
She didn’t get a chance to complete her thought, because there was the sound of a door being smashed open. Almost immediately there were footsteps, and a boy came into view, running down the stairs. He was a dark haired teenager, and as he saw Azure and her sister, he levelled a crossbow across the room at them. “All right!” he shouted. “You’re going to tell me what you’ve done to Pelinelneth, or my name’s not Joey Frankson!” WHAT’S NEXT?
“No duh!” the blue haired girl fired back at her sister.
Simon registered what they were saying, but he was rather more preoccupied with patting himself down to verify that yes, he was again back in his more familiar male body. As opposed to the female one he’d inhabited for the duration of Wanda’s spell. Unfortunately, this meant he only registered the presence of the fourth person in the room after the immobilization field hit.
It then took a moment for Simon to realize it wasn’t complete immobilization. While it felt like he couldn’t move in the wash of deep pink (even more pink than the room had been previously), it was possible to counter the effect. But it was slow, and hurt. A lot. Still, he grit his teeth and turned his head to get a better sense of what they were up against.
He was kneeling less than an arm’s length away from Chartreuse, her sister Azure crouched in front of them. Azure was holding two index cards in her hands. All of them were closer to Qifarihm’s statue than Simon remembered – allowing him to realize that the wash of pink came from the magic circle that they were currently inside, the circumference glowing red. Peering out, he recognized the fourth individual. And he realized they had a chance.
“Pelinelneth,” he rasped. “Help us.”
“Help?! She’s doing this!” Azure countered, grimacing with the effort of speaking. “If you two weren’t so slow…”
“How are you here?” Chartreuse demanded.
“Double duh. Your friend Alice,” Azure stated.
“But this circle, it isn’t elf magic,” Simon protested.
“You’re right,” came a voice from somewhere behind him. It took a moment for Simon to place the speaker as Snowball, Qifarihm’s former cat – who had been turned into a small pink unicorn. “But Wanda left Pel with the ability to switch the field on, should anything happen,” the female voice continued. “Which it has. In the form of a young girl appearing out of a blue whirlpool. That was new.”
“Meaning Wanda was right,” Pelinelneth remarked. “Other world people are coming to take the artifact away from her.”
“So maybe they should.”
Simon saw Pelinelneth turn an accusing gaze towards the unicorn’s position. “So you ARE a traitor!”
“This from the elf who left us for town.”
AZURE VERMILION New cast member
“Azure! You’ve, like, gotta get out of here!” Chartreuse said, aghast.
“Gee, I would, but I’m kind of immobile after SAVING YOUR LIFE,” Azure shot back.
“WHOA!” Simon shouted out, realizing from the cacophony of voices that he was now the only male in the room. An odd reversal. “Let’s all talk for a moment. Maybe without this pain field?”
“I have nothing to say to you,” Pelinelneth shot back.
“Not even about being Wanda’s imaginary friend?” he countered. The elf flinched at the reference, but pursed her lips closed.
“Who is Wanda anyway?” Azure asked.
“Alice didn’t even, you know, EXPLAIN her?!” Chartreuse shrieked.
“Explanations actually sound like a good plan,” Snowball stated. Abruptly Simon felt the ability to move without pain once again – but the blood red circle still surrounded them, glowing menacingly. He cautiously rose to his feet, as Snowball continued with, “So I’m lessening the field. Meaning I get to dictate the rules.”
“Who IS saying th– O. M. G, UNICORN,” Azure gasped, as she also stood up and apparently got her first good look at Snowball.
Chartreuse reached for Azure’s arm, where Simon noticed a communicator watch. “No! It’s not safe! Call Alice back, you’re, like, leaving!”
“Since when has life been SAFE?” Azure retorted. “Also, Alice doesn’t have the power! Also, how dare you run off to Equestria without telling me! I’m the reason you know about the show in the first place!” Chartreuse face palmed.
Pelinelneth crossed her arms, her eyes practically shooting daggers at Snowball. “If they escape, it’s on your head.”
Escape didn’t seem that likely – when Simon edged further from the centre of the circle, he was met with both a force of active resistance, and a burning sensation on his skin. He edged back.
“Here’s the rules,” Snowball continued doggedly, ignoring the outbursts. “Any one of us can ask a question of any of the others. That person then gets to ask something of someone else, which continues in a chain. The chain will break as soon as someone lies, or refuses to answer, meaning they don’t get to ask anything. I’m gambling that we’re all reasonably honourable individuals – with questions. Satisfactory?”
It sounded quite sensible, actually. Simon nodded back towards the small animal. After a momentary hesitation, the Vermilion sisters also nodded. Pelinelneth merely flicked at the bangs of her hair, which Snowball seemed to take as an assent. The unicorn turned to look at Azure. “You, in the weird clothes,” she began, causing Simon to realize that the blue haired girl’s orange T-shirt and pants were rather out of place, “Are people from your world going to keep coming here, no matter what, until you retrieve the artifact?”
Azure glanced sidelong at her sister before raising her shoulders in a shrug. “Probably not?” she answered. “I mean, I wouldn’t have come, except for my sister Clueless being in trouble. Also, the person running the station out there is having power issues, and told me not to expect further backup for a while.”
“Oh, great!” Chartreuse sighed. “THAT knowledge will intimidate our enemies.”
“The unicorn said not to lie!” Azure shot back. “And if there was a cover story, someone shoulda told me!”
“Interesting. I appreciate the candour,” Snowball acknowledged. “Your question next.”
Azure frowned, Simon noticing how her eyes flickered around to everyone else in the room. In the end, they alighted on Chartreuse, and when Azure spoke, her tone was less brash, and more muted. “Why do you say it’s not safe for me here?”
“Because there’s a Royal Wizard out there named Wanda, who, you know, has an evil artifact that can rewrite reality by granting wishes,” Chartreuse explained, now also sounding more subdued. “She’s fighting for women’s rights, which is good, but in her past she killed and injured people, which is not so good. Plus, even without wishing, she, you know, put me and Simon under a spell. After turning the former Royal Wizard into, like, that.” She jerked her thumb over towards the Qifarihm statue.
Azure’s eyes widened. “Holy…” She didn’t complete the statement. She did start to look uncomfortable as she stared at the statue.
Chartreuse looked away from her sister, and back to Simon. He inclined his head slightly towards Pelinelneth, hoping that she would speak to the elf – he doubted that he would have much luck asking the woman a question himself. Chartreuse took the hint.
“Pelinelneth,” she began. “I must say, you’re looking as pretty as I remember. Which makes some sense, if you were originally wished up or transformed by Wanda in some way. And that stands to reason, since then the wish, you know, could turn against her in the form of your desire to go off on your own. To, like, explore the world, learn about romance, and technology, and all that. Leaving her alone.” Chartreuse nodded slowly, as if piecing it all together in her mind. “Then, to twist the knife, as a condition of going, the artifact took away your own past. Which served to bring you back. But not quite as the same person who left. Still, you’re now trapped here once again with Wanda, the only person you inherently trust, even though you’re afraid that–”
“Is there a question in all this?” Pelinelneth snapped.
Chartreuse nodded. “Same question I asked you last night. In the end, do you want Wanda’s artifact to undo everything, or to lock your existence in place?”
Pelinelneth visibly flinched, and turned away from the group, staring towards the bookshelves. Simon slumped at that, figuring they’d lost their chance to learn anything. Until he saw Chartreuse raise her index finger, shaking her head slightly and giving him an expectant look. Simon turned back towards the elf.
When she spoke, her voice was shaky. “I don’t know any more,” the silver haired woman admitted. “My sense of self preservation is now at war with my… my love for Wanda. Seeing her again… this has all been so hard on the poor woman! I want her to finally be at peace, whatever the cost…” She spun back towards them, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. Her gaze went right to Simon. “Can you guarantee Wanda’s safety, after removing the artifact from her possession??”
Simon felt a lump grow in his throat. He wanted to give her the answer she desired. But he had his own question to consider, and Snowball had called for the truth. “No,” he responded. “In fact, the wishing might be like an addiction, and as such we have no idea how removing the artifact will affect… your friend. But,” he put in, “we WILL do our best to minimize any suffering. I’ll guarantee that much.”
Pelinelneth held his gaze for another moment before turning away again. “Damn,” she whispered. “You should have lied.”
“Okay then. I’m guessing you’re asking me next,” Snowball concluded, flicking her tail back and forth.
Simon nodded. And frowned. It was tempting to ask why the unicorn had thought that people from another world would eventually be coming here. It held the implication that the ‘artifact’, whatever it was, wasn’t native to this place. There was also the fact that Snowball had claimed to be isolated from any changes by wishes, and thus might have some insight into how things could be reset. But none of that knowledge would necessarily help them now.
He cleared his throat. “How can we get out of here, and to someplace that Wanda can’t immediately find us?”
The pony nickered, and Simon had the impression that Snowball was laughing. “I could refuse to answer that,” she said after a moment. “Thus ending the chain. But I won’t. In part because the only way for you to get out, short of us allowing it, is for you to invoke card magic. The thing that trapped you in there originally. It’s also the only way you could remain undetected, since Wanda would be looking for foreign magic, not something of her own type.”
“Oh,” Simon said. Recalling Chartreuse’s efforts in the dungeon, he turned to look at her. Her gaze went to Azure. Azure’s gaze went down to the card stock she was holding in her hands. The same two cards that Wanda had placed on his and Chartreuse’s foreheads, to trap them in the history spell.
“Dispellere!” Azure shouted, whipping one card, edge first, towards the edge of the circle. It embedded itself into empty space, the magical symbols around the circumference briefly flared red – and then the magic light shut off, and the card floated down to the ground. Simon quickly stepped towards where the circle’s glow had been. This time, he felt no resistance or burning sensation… and then he was out.
The unicorn let out a noise that Simon couldn’t identify. “I revise my earlier opinion,” Snowball said. “Maybe you do have a chance of winning.”
“I totes did not think that would work!” Azure gasped, so dumbfounded that Chartreuse had to practically drag her sister out of the danger zone, lest the field re-establish itself.
“Stop!” Pelinelneth shouted. She ran for the weapons chest, pulling out the bow and arrow on top before Simon could move to stop her. With practiced ease, she nocked an arrow, and Simon froze, his arm outstretched towards her.
“Pelinelneth,” Chartreuse murmured. “We might be Wanda’s best chance.”
The bow and arrow shook slightly, making Simon uncomfortable. “Wanda put me in charge of monitoring you,” the elf said, her voice catching. “While she’s off explaining about Qifarihm’s escape. I cannot simply let you walk out.”
The bow string was released, and the arrow flew through the air. Simon felt his breath catch as the weapon whistled past his side, and as he turned his head, he saw the arrow had embedded itself deeply into the pink-purple couch behind him. “I have to at least put up token resistance,” she finished.
“Yeah, well, giving me a heart attack would serve to keep me here,” Simon wheezed.
Another arrow was nocked. “I rarely miss twice.”
“We’re out,” Chartreuse assured, heading for the door. Azure shook free from her sister’s grip to travel under her own power.
Simon grabbed their gear and hurried to catch up. “One last question,” Snowball called out. “What exactly is your motivation for doing this?”
Simon looked back over his shoulder. It occurred to him that there were two answers for that question, so he gave both. “On the small scale, because we’re good people,” he stated. “On a larger scale, you’d have to ask our boss, Alice.”
VOTING WILL CLOSE THURSDAY FEB 26 EST
(Delayed because…. two isn’t enough this time… no? really? no one else?)