The Curse: Part Eight
The next day Lord Darigan arrived back again quite unexpectedly. Lockwood was, in fact, exactly in the middle of an excessively complicated spell designed to reveal the true nature of a curse; Darigan’s appearing just in front of him affected the magic rather counterproductively. The Gelert dropped all the pieces of the spell he had been holding together and the magic, deprived of any practical purpose, solidified into a ball of ice.
“I am terribly sorry,” said Darigan apologetically, looking around the room. “I should have guessed that you might be doing something important. As a matter of fact I meant to end up just outside the door, but I seem to have made a slight miscalculation.”
“Think nothing of it, I implore you,” sighed Lockwood, reabsorbing the ice before it could melt on the carpet.
“So you’ve found the artifact, have you? I am surprised you managed it so quickly.”
“I was quite vastly astonished myself,” admitted Lockwood. “Fortunately, however, I cannot seem to make any headway in breaking the curse – that would be quite tediously simple.”
Darigan smiled despite himself, then became abruptly practical and serious. “What have you tried so far?”
“Oh, everything! – that is a collection of ten or so spells, most of them intended to reveal the source of a curse, all of them equally useless. I keep receiving the oddest results from them.”
Darigan sat down and considered. “It strikes me as a very tricky piece of magic – I’m not exactly astonished that you haven’t been able to do much with it. More noteworthy is the fact that you still have any energy left.”
“Is that so?” replied Lockwood, who was in fact in excellent spirits. He could not remember having been in such a pleasant mood for several weeks.
“Well,” explained Darigan with a frown, “you say you’ve been performing spells all morning; I can feel several powerful warding spells surrounding you and this house; and of course, there is the little matter of the magical artifact.”
All at once Lockwood realized something that he had never considered before, and it was not something that he liked to consider. “You mean,” he said slowly, “that, as a magical artifact is by definition created with part of the sorcerer’s permanent self –”
“Precisely. I have been engaged in further study during my spare time and have concluded that you are missing at least a fourth of yourself as we speak. Your magical capabilities,” he added, “should be severely diminished.”
The notion of being somehow incomplete would have been unpleasant to anyone; Lockwood found it particularly and peculiarly repulsive. “I would not dare to question your knowledge, of course, but how precisely can one be sure that a spell is a magical artifact at all?” he inquired with a touch of coldness.
“You are quite right to question my knowledge,” said Darigan sincerely. “It is less expansive that you might think. However, of the fact that it is a magical artifact I am fairly sure. Given an hour or two I could teach you any number of detection spells – magical artifacts, while difficult to dispose of, are surprisingly easy to identify.”
Lockwood only sat down in a rather vexed and irritated manner.
Darigan, possibly perceiving that nothing was to be gained from the subject, exchanged it for another. “If you don’t mind my asking, Mr. Lockwood, have you been noticing anything... strange, lately? For my part I have been observing that when I look at that candle – that one there – out of the corner of my eye, it glows an odd whitish color.”
Lockwood turned his head experimentally but could only observe that the candle looked very much melted.
“I have seen... other things,” he confessed warily; then a thought struck him. “Do you know whether Lisha intends to come here, or has she decided to stay at Meridell Castle as I advised her to?”
“Oh, she is staying – rather unwillingly as I understand,” Darigan answered with a slight smile. “Though she insists that she will leave if you do not write back. King Skarl, however, did not want her to go, and Sir Jeran finally managed to convince her that you were perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.”
Lockwood, remembering yesterday’s terrifying shadow world, wondered darkly whether Jeran’s confidence might not be misplaced; he had already determined, however, to say nothing about it to Darigan unless it became absolutely necessary.
“Perhaps,” continued Darigan, “if you don’t mind, that is – we could try some detection spells now.”
“Certainly,” acquiesced Lockwood. “It is very kind of you to take the time.”
Darigan brushed his share of the credit aside with a kindly shake of his head. “If there’s one thing I cannot keep myself away from, it’s a magical puzzle. The first question, of course, is what spell... In the interest of time I believe it might be easier to use a preexisting one. Given what you were doing when I arrived, I take it you have seen and used the magical script?”
“I suppose you might call it that,” conceded Lockwood with slight reluctance. “Though I have not the least conception of how it works.”
Darigan stroked his chin thoughtfully with a finger as though the question was a difficult one. “My own familiarity with the shorthand is very limited, and I am sorry to say that I can barely record the most basic of spells myself. In general my magic has been limited to practical purposes and I am a very poor scholar. I believe King Hagan might have the resources to help you, should you ever wish to learn.”
“I see,” said Lockwood rather doubtfully. After a moment’s consideration he resolved to put it out of his thoughts for the time being. “May I ask what particular spell we intend to use?”
Darigan riffled through the neat stack of parchments on Lockwood’s desk and drew out the one entitled, quite plainly, A Spell of Revelation. “One of my personal favorites,” he remarked. “There is nothing at all extraneous in it, but I have found that when properly used it tells you most of what you wish to know. About a curse, that is,” he added with his slight, wry smile. “I do not believe the spell exists that will tell a person what he really wants to know, unless he is a remarkably unusual person.”
Lockwood silently took the paper that was handed to him and scanned it with the same eerie feeling of incomprehension followed by the rush of illogical, impossible understanding. He was haunted once again with a sense of déjà-vu, and with a vague notion that he was no longer entirely in control of his own actions.
“Do you understand?” Darigan asked.
Lockwood nodded, transferring the parchment back to his desk rather dizzily. As he did so, he stared in horror at –
But it was only the motionless white cravat. His eyes seemed to be playing tricks on him.
Darigan’s rather anxious voice jerked him out of his reverie. “What is it? – is there something the matter?”
“Not the least thing in the world,” he replied softly, staring out of the window. He had had no conception that it was raining. Then, with an effort, he spoke again. “Shall we begin?”
“Yes, if you’re ready – are you sure that you are?”
“I am excessively certain,” Lockwood assured him, not knowing what he said.
The spell was not terribly complex; and Darigan was a sorcerer of such abilities that, even with a less adept partner, the magic would not have been difficult.
As he commenced his part, Lockwood knew that something was about to go terribly wrong. He could not help himself; he even felt that he would prefer it not to; but somehow the magic slid out of him without his permission, slicing a vicious path through the air to join with Darigan’s.
Still the Spell of Revelation was trying to perform its duty. Lockwood saw the dark, swirling clouds and the shifting shadows, and the figure of ice appeared before him. He thought wonderingly that it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Every line had been cut in perfection, though he could not have said what the form was, as it refused to stick in his mind for more than a half-second.
Soon he realized that it was speaking – not to him, but to Darigan, a shadowy Darigan taller than he remembered.
“What do you want from me, Lord Darigan?”
“I will not be bound by words. The magic has told you exactly what I want.”
The ice figure split up into a million pieces, each of them reflecting the next until the brilliant white light became blinding. “I will give you what you seek,” it whispered, and somehow it pointed at Lockwood.
Lockwood felt someone shaking him and, feeling an increasing sense of urgency, pulled himself forcibly out of the spell. It was far, far more difficult than it should have been; his strength was sapped and he could not think clearly.
Then with sudden clarity he sat down weakly in an armchair, horrified. “Oh no – don’t tell me – no, do,” he gasped miserably. “What have I done now?”
Darigan was panting in front of him but managed a smile. “Nothing lasting, I assure you. It was – rather alarming at the time, but I believe we have both escaped unscathed.”
Lockwood loosened his necktie, which seemed to have tightened uncomfortably around his throat; his eyes were drawn inexorably toward the cravat on the desk, and he shuddered. “And so of course we were obliged to leave without getting what we had come for. I am beginning to feel that this curse is a great nuisance.”
“No,” said Darigan with a thoughtful frown. “I think we did get what we came for, but I am not sure whether it will help us.”
As he welcomed the chance to recover himself, Lockwood did not break Darigan’s silence; he simply waited. After several minutes his patience was rewarded.
“I understand now,” Darigan said heavily. “It has been under our noses the whole time. However harmful it may be, this curse is not a curse. It is a magical artifact. It comes from you, Mr. Lockwood, and the simple truth is that you cannot destroy it; your magic will not let you. You would be destroying yourself.”
The shadow Gelert simply stared at him, appalled.
“You have to take it back – reabsorb it.”
Lockwood had known it all along, really. He had purposely evaded and ignored the truth because he had not wanted to face it. The malice that the curse had shown him in a thousand different ways was his malice; its cruelty was his cruelty.
“But I don’t want it back,” he whispered.
To be continued...