Here’s the post you were perhaps expecting yesterday. (If you didn’t see what happened yesterday, go look!) Earlier on in the serial, I had a look back at the choices NOT taken by you, the audience. Let’s do that again, shall we? Because: 1. Yes, the arc is officially over. Some loose ends remain, as in Story1… so if there were particular items that you feel require elaboration, let me know. 2. The next arc posted up here won’t have choices. It will be from my Time Travel story (“Time & Tied”), so you can’t influence it. But I hope you’ll enjoy it (particularly those of you who voted for Chartreuse – it’s her universe!). It’s coming TOMORROW! (Whoa, why so fast? I explain a bit in this post, and will elaborate later.)
Before then, here’s “Wish Fulfilment”, the last few voting options not taken. SPOILERS follow, in case you haven’t read to the ending of Story2, and want to be surprised.
11: FLEEING. Marginal influence. I figured: hiding in the servants’ quarters would introduce a servant character, hiding in the dungeon would introduce a prisoner character, and hiding in town would have brought the Wish Underground back. Buuuut then this was the first time a tie made it through since ‘Numbers Game’! Even after extending the vote and shouting around online. So I split the party.
12: INVOLVEMENT. Big influence. Owing to the prior tie, at this point, I wanted to know to what degree each of Joey and Iklius/Ikky should feature. (Incidentally, before now, there had been no plan to bring Iklius back.) If Joey and the Underground had gotten in, there would have been a more full frontal assault (distraction?) on the castle, less Ikky. With just Joey, he and Ikky might have traded off, or been separate distractions. As it was, with no Joey, we got Ikky.
13: RETURN. Marginal influence. If Chartreuse had been taken to Wanda, Simon would have relieved the guard who had been tasked with doing it, giving them a chance to talk. If Chartreuse had been taken to a waiting area, again she and Simon would have talked, but I likely would have introduced the King (or his personal servant?), only to have Wanda interrupt.
Perhaps 12 isn’t as “big” an influence as I state. But I really REALLY hadn’t wanted a tie there, and it had been leaning that way again. I even tweeted @ people to avoid it. (By the same logic, maybe 11 would have been “bigger” if it hadn’t resulted in a tie.) Still, it was the results of 12 that meant I had to finally work out Iklius’ power (cancellation was only decided on while writing part 13) and (even more than 13) it was part 12’s vote that set up the final battle as being face-to-face, versus some type of diversionary tactic.
14: CLIMAX. Big influence. Wanda completely losing it would have meant breaking out of Chartreuse’s spell only to find Azure had taken The Book, and pretty much only Ikky would have been able to shut her down – possibly with mutual annihilation. Ikky completely losing it would have meant using her cancellation to revert to Iklius – at which point he would have tried to eliminate Wanda himself. Likely not by mutual annihilation, but there would have been guilt going around at the attempt.
15: PROJECT. Negligible influence. Alison coming back would have been to talk with Chartreuse about Carrie and time travel (given the BBC issues), perhaps along with why she signed up. Alice talking about her God would have provided hints as to the personality of the character who’s running this station in the multiverse, as opposed to talking about Epsilon/Delta, which is what you got.
16: FAVE CHARACTER. I was merely curious as to which character(s) have been coming through more, and how it compared to Alijda, the favourite last time. So far, Chartreuse is in the lead! Like, OMG.
Thus the final fight resulted in the happy ending – as much as it could. Should I have expected this? Perhaps I shouldn’t have teased in my last “Paths Not Taken” post when there was a “poor” choice selected? For that matter, I recently came across another author with a “Reader Poll” in the midst of his story (zombie apocalypse scenario), and I wonder to what degree a choice there (and here) might have been influenced by the fact that we don’t want to be seen as uncaring people. Even if the whole thing is anonymous. Or, I might be reading too much into it.
Ah yes, entry 17! I hope you enjoyed it yesterday! Rachel did really well, considering she had to write it two weeks in advance. Before I even knew that 16 would end the arc! I thought that she had a REALLY clever way of handling the uncertainty. I also like the idea of a scale difference (a la Gulliver) in some alternate worlds, and might use it when “The Epsilon Project” resumes. Again, you can check out her serial here. As for me writing someone else’s “April Fool”, I blogged about the process, if you’re curious.
From this point on, the website will redesign for “Time & Tied”, and we get a time travel story. And Chartreuse will (eventually) be in it… of all the secondary characters, she’s definitely the one I thought could handle her own spinoff. It just so happens that you got the spinoff first.
Thanks for reading, as before feel free to comment below about that which was unexpected, or anything else that jumps out at you!
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?
The fireball flew straight for Azure’s face. And Chartreuse felt her heart jump into her throat. Perversely, the first thought that came to mind was: How exactly does one explain to one’s parents that their youngest daughter got killed on some alternate world? Worse, got killed because of a plan that you came up with?
Even though she was several metres away, hiding behind one of the statues in the castle courtyard, Chartreuse reached out her arm, as if that could pull her sister back out of harm’s way…
The fireball was deflected in Chartreuse’s direction, forcing her to pull back. It exploded on the ground, starting a small fire. The pink haired teenager quickly poked her head out around the other side of her cover.
Azure stood there, right arm outstretched and shaking. She was unhurt. Thank goodness, it had worked. They’d reasoned that the younger Vermilion might be able to deflect Wanda’s attacks using the deck of playing cards. But Azure could only do that another, what, 51 times? Did the deck have Jokers?
“I’ll see if I can get Ikky to shine the light again,” Simon murmured.
“Why did she, you know, stop?!” Chartreuse said, unable to keep the desperation out of her voice. Getting Ikky to channel her cancellation power through the flashlight beam (her focus object) had been the one thing keeping Azure safe. Granted, a fireball had been sent towards Ikky too, but couldn’t she have cancelled it out?
“Startled?” Simon suggested. “Plus, merely because she can cancel, doesn’t mean things around her are naturally immune. A lot’s been thrown at her today, literally and figuratively.”
He had a point. Moreover, Chartreuse had seen inside Ikky the potential for… well, something bad. She shouldn’t push. The teenager’s hands clenched. If only Wanda would move forwards into the field of crystals, instead of standing there, seemingly re-evaluating Azure.
Then, as Chartreuse watched, two more fireballs were produced, both of them flying towards Azure at once. The blue haired girl back-pedalled, hand moving quickly to pull cards from the deck in her left hand, throwing them out to block. One ball of flame flew to the left, the other slammed into the ground in front of her. Had Azure been singed?
And still Wanda stood there, not pressing the advantage. She had to know about the danger area! So what could they do? As Chartreuse watched, the brunette wizard eyed Azure again, then turned to the elf standing next to her. “See if she can do that against an arrow.”
It was then, as Chartreuse was a step away from charging out to stand with her sister, that she realized that she was being an idiot. Simon had given her back her two crystals, in order to do the reading on Ikky. With them, she could realign the perimeter herself.
She dashed out of hiding. She didn’t try to make herself a target, but even with the fading light after sundown, Chartreuse knew she’d be hard to miss. The light from the fires wasn’t helpful either. So, she tried to make it seem like she was running for the gates, trying to get away.
“You MISSED,” Wanda said, sounding shocked.
“I think she deflected it,” Pelinelneth said in a flat tone.
They were ignoring her. Chartreuse dropped a crystal on the ground. She now had to circle back around to Wanda’s other side. She did so, trying to keep from breathing too hard. She could do it in fifteen more steps. Ten. Five. Okay, another five.
That’s when she felt the intense, burning heat coming from her right, and she heard Azure scream, “NO!”
The light nearly blinded her. But almost immediately, she realized that it wasn’t a burning light, it was light from a flashlight – yet there was burning all around her, even if the worst of it was being cancelled out, and it was so hot, and maybe she was going to die, but it didn’t matter, she dropped the crystal and clapped her hands and spun to face their adversary.
“You showed us your past!” Chartreuse screamed out. “Time for us to, you know, show you your future!”
Her crystals lit up, a pulse of rainbow light chaining between all of them, with Wanda caught in the middle.
She could remake the world. She had the power to do it. No one would have to suffer ever again. Not like her. Never like her.
Baby steps, though. For all his misogynist posturing, Qifarihm had been right about a couple of things: Trying to take on too much, too soon, would result in disaster. Wanda had experienced that firsthand. Also, belief had to come from within. Not even facts and arguments could break through a person’s beliefs, no, the individual had to discover the truth for themselves. It had to become personal.
That’s where The Book came in.
Wanda had found it out in the woods, while searching for magical herbs. At first, she hadn’t been aware of what it could do. She’d merely wanted to keep it. She also hadn’t been sure what had compelled her to write, “I wish the King would ask MY opinion for a change, instead of Qifarihm” into it.
The King had consulted with Wanda the very next day. On something she’d had no clue about, so the advice had been terrible, but in no way was that experience mere coincidence. So, Wanda had experimented further. Small scale. On other people, so that she could remain objective.
She had quickly realized that, with The Book, she COULD change people’s beliefs. About themselves, about others – about reality itself! As a bonus, she got a nice little head rush whenever a wish was granted. Finally, she had it. A way to change their world for the better.
Sure, there had been hurdles, and glitches, but she had overcome them. She had even found a spell to miniaturize The Book and wear it as a pendant whenever it wasn’t in use, so that she could keep it safe. Because she knew that once the townspeople realized what she was capable of, and once they really understood the reasoning behind all of her efforts, it could only lead to one inevitable outcome.
A dragon, razing the city, burning it with fire.
“NO!” Wanda screamed. She tried to make a fireball, to shoot it up into the air, to fight back – but she had no cards, she had no magic, and then she realized that the fires burning around her threw off no heat.
“We’re kinda insubstantial,” came a voice. “That’s how my visions work.”
Wanda screamed again, and jumped for the pink haired girl, her hands reaching out for the teenager’s neck. She passed right through, falling onto the ground.
“Um, we’re even, like, insubstantial to each other. Sorry. I’m Chartreuse, by the way.”
Wanda scrambled back to her feet, fingers twitching, lips quivering, lost in a sea of emotion. “Why do you look like an elf? Why do you look like my Pelinelneth?!” she shouted.
Chartreuse reached up to touch her ears, seeming surprised. “Huh. Dunno. Holdover from your spell? Magic on this world is, you know, weird. My future visions don’t tend to be this vivid.”
“This is NOT the future!!”
Chartreuse lowered her arm. “It’s the most probable one. Again, sorry.”
“Then you have to CHANGE it!” Wanda demanded. “Give me more artifacts! Once I have them in other cities, once the people there learn, as we did, that that it’s their own beliefs which hold them back and cause society’s problems, we can fix this!”
The girl sighed. “Even if I could, you know, I wouldn’t.”
“Then this, ALL of this is on YOUR conscience!” Wanda shrieked, gesturing out at the flames surrounding them.
Chartreuse didn’t speak for a moment. When she did, it was only to say quietly, “No, Wanda. You’re the only one who can, like, change this.”
Wanda made a fist, then realized she couldn’t even punch the girl in the face. Seething, the brunette wizard turned her attention back to the images around them. “Do you even know WHY this is happening?” she asked.
“Fear.” This time, the response was immediate. “Can’t you sense it? I don’t know if it’s fear over the wishing in this place, fear over your growing power, fear over women finally being regarded as equals – maybe it’s pieces of all three. But your city is scared, your WORLD is scared, and they’re all fighting back. Innocents are getting hurt.”
Wanda COULD sense it. She’d been trying to block it out. “No. This is not what I wanted. Not like this.”
“Maybe it’s what your book wanted. Wanda, part of you knows it’s evil.”
She spun back to face her companion. “NO! The Book is a thing. Things are not good or evil. The Book can’t want this any more than a slice of bread wants cheese!”
The elf-like girl pursed her lips, and Wanda sensed what she was thinking. “And I am not evil either! I’m not! I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve been working to FIX them! I’m not inhumane! I’ve been selective about the wishes I write, I’ve tried to confiscate people’s weapons, I’ve been working to give the Queen more power – I didn’t even kill Qifarihm! I only need more time! More artifacts! You have to give them to me!!”
“All I was going to say is, you know, this particular book might be more than a mere thing.”
There was a moment, a very brief moment where Wanda felt like blasting away at the scene around her with every fibre of her being, doing whatever she could to escape this hideous lie, so that she could get back to making her world a better, safer place to live in. A place that would ultimately benefit everyone, once they stopped believing that things were inherent to gender, money, magic capability, or lineage.
But she didn’t do it. Instead, she fell to her knees.
“The Book is all I have left,” she stated. “You can’t take it. I’ve killed people, innocent people, and using The Book is the only way I can atone for it.” She felt a wetness slide down her cheek. Disgusted by the show of weakness, she pounded her fist into the ground.
“Oh, like, hell,” Chartreuse shot back. Wanda jerked her gaze back up in surprise. “There’s people out there who dream of having your strength of character! The fact that this book is evil, and magic can corrupt, and yet even after all you’ve experienced, you’re still upset over what’s happening? That’s a sign that bad stuff is, you know, having a hell of a time getting it’s hooks into you!”
“Stop.” Chartreuse crouched down. “It’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason.” She frowned. “Maybe that’s from, like, a fortune cookie. My point is, it’s not too late to, you know, do the right thing!” She took a deep breath. “There is still time to prevent this future. That much I know.”
Wanda cast her gaze up to the sky. A sky filled with cinders and dark smoke, smoke which was billowing out over a land that she now realized wasn’t capable of – or perhaps simply wasn’t ready for – the vision she had in her head.
Not even facts and arguments could break through a person’s beliefs, no, the individual had to discover the truth for themselves. It had to become personal.
“Take The Book away, and help me fix this,” Wanda pleaded, her tears now flowing freely.
Chartreuse snapped back into her body. When her eyes opened, she realized that she was lying on the ground. Right – she’d collapsed upon being pulled into the vision with Wanda. She tried to prop herself up on one arm, and winced. She pulled the arm up to stare at it. Her shirt sleeve had been burned away, and her skin had what looked like a sunburn. Peachy.
“She’s awake!” a female voice called out, and Chartreuse realized it was Ikky. Even as she struggled to sit up again, the blonde woman moved into her field of vision. With a tentative smile, Ikky asked, “Do we get to kill Wanda now?”
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?”