Celandine: Part Four
Lanshar followed Para in silence. She had thought that they should wait at the shelter, thinking Narcis would come that way eventually, but Para had shook her head at that idea. They would meet Narcis in Brightvale, and nowhere else. She was adamant. Where and how, she did not say, but when she got that look in her shining blue eyes, there was no arguing with her. So Lanshar let her lead the way. She had only the basics of the shadow of a plan in mind, but that was how she had always worked out things in the Battledome. And in this case, she was working with her strengths; strategy. She might not be able to hold off Narcis if it came to a battle of pure strength but if it came to a battle of wits, then she was more than prepared.
Yet there was something she just couldn't get off of her mind. At the very last, after she'd gathered all the information she could and was about to set out with her sister, Jedd had stopped them.
"Parai," he'd said, pronouncing her sister's name in a strange way she'd never heard before.
Para had halted at once, biting her lip, looking guilty.
"You were here before weren't you, long ago? Before I took over, when I was still injured. I remember now."
Para had said nothing.
"I told you about Faerieland and you disappeared. I always wondered what had happened to you...well, I know now and I'm glad you found a family. I guess I found one too," he'd said, gesturing at the shelter.
She'd smiled a little sadly then, darting a look at Lanshar before saying carefully, "Thank you, Jedd, for everything. You--you saved me that time."
Once outside the walls of Brightvale, Lanshar stopped and confronted Para.
"After all these years, you've never told us where you came from, Para," she said. She didn't know why the words came spilling out of her mouth. Maybe because they were alone and far away from home. Or maybe because they were about to put themselves in more danger than they'd ever experienced in their lives. But suddenly, she had to know.
Para looked away. "I don't like talking about it," she said in a low voice.
"You--you have something that I've always wanted," said Lanshar, biting her lip, "and never could have. Memories." Lanshar had appeared out of nowhere one day and that was that. Sometimes she felt she could almost remember something, the tiniest glimpse into her past. But she was never sure if she was convincing herself that her imaginations were real, or if she was mixing up her life with stories she'd read.
The little Cybunny looked up. "What are the point of memories if none of them are good?"
"You had a name."
"And what is Lanshar? Not a good enough name for you?" Para's eyes flashed.
"It's not the same."
"I would rather have been named by Brea than by--by," Para took a few deep breaths to calm herself. "Fine. I owe you at least the truth. I was born in a little village outside of Meridell. When I started... knowing things, and telling people about them, especially my dreams, they were scared. Terrified. And you know what they did, Lanshar? They threw me out. That's what good my name and my memories did me. I wandered around for a long time, until I finally collapsed, near Jedd's shelter. The previous owner was still living there at the time, and he took me in. I met Jedd very briefly and left during the night. I didn't want to be around anyone. I thought that they'd throw me out also, once they knew the truth. But Jedd had told me something. About Faerieland and how it was okay to have magic there. So I traveled there, I just knew where to go, like I always have. And I found myself standing in front of Brea's library, looking in on her as she covered you up with a blanket because you'd fallen asleep on top of a book. And I knew I had found my home." By the end Para's voice was no more than a whisper and her voice was almost pleading.
Lanshar was quiet, staring wide eyed at Para. She shook her head.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Can we please go on now? I'm worried about Jonquil," said Para.
"Yeah, we should go." It had been silly of her to think that was the only one who had ever been betrayed, abandoned.
If the city was quieter than any city had a right to be, neither of them noticed it. Lanshar followed Para, who wandered at a seemingly random pace through the streets. No one stopped them. Looking back, Lanshar could not remember there being anyone around to stop them. The bright buildings, sparkling fountains and statues of Brightvale were dull beneath the overcast skies. The banners hung limply, supported by not even the smallest of breezes. Neither of them noticed any of this, but kept going on, as if in a dream. Once again, a whirring at her throat brought Lanshar to attention. The compass. She stopped walking.
"We're going around in circles." She clutched the Compass tightly and it glowed. Suddenly she could feel it, a net of power encircling them. "Where are we?"
"What?" asked Para, looking around her. "How? I was following... I knew where to go..." Her eyes widened as she too became aware of the web of magic surrounding and binding them. "No..."
"Oh, yes," said a familiar voice.
Noise exploded around them and the two little pets jumped, startled at finding themselves sitting in a dark corner of a shady looking inn. Across the heavy, stained table sat Narcis, studying their faces. The place was crowded, filled with rough conversations, shouts and the occasional banging of mugs and silverware on tables.
"The thing about those with a bit of magic in them," he drawled, leaning forward on the heavy table, "is that they're wont to put so much faith in their little tricks that they never think it can lead them the wrong way. Just enough magic in your path and you think it’s your own, telling you where to go, never suspecting a trap."
Para looked at Lanshar, despair in her round eyes. Para had always trusted her insight; being betrayed by it was a hard blow.
"Well, don't despair. I'm telling you this so you don't fall into a similar trap again. Focus and you'll always know the difference," said Narcis. His tone was almost conversational.
Para said nothing. Lanshar met the sleek Darigan Aisha's eyes. She watched him warily, ready for any sudden movements. Suddenly her clever plan didn't seem all that clever.
"You're stronger than I'd expected, little one, seeing through my trick," said Narcis, eying her Compass. "It’s a sad but true fact that Aishas are notoriously weak. I was a Battledome champion once, a long time ago. Before other things got in the way. But I always like to see young Aishas like yourself, tough and smart. Although you were a little late, seeing as I lead you all the way here before you realized what was going on."
Well, they had been looking for Narcis anyway, thought Lanshar. Maybe this wasn't a bad thing.
"Where are our Petpets?" she asked.
"I find myself at a loss, little one, you know my name and I don't know yours. This gives you the upper hand. It’s a little unfair."
"I like things that way."
Narcis lifted his eyebrows and leaned back in his chair, draping an arm across the back. "Very well then, little one. Normally I prefer a few pleasantries before negotiations, but this will have to do. Would you like something to drink? Juice? Tea?"
She sat up a little straighter in her chair, wishing she were bigger, wishing Breanja were here to deal with Narcis, wishing Para would snap out of it. Narcis wasn't going to remain pleasant and chatty for long. But none of these things were going to happen in the conceivable future and she needed to act quickly and make no mistakes. She had convinced Breanja against her better wishes that she could do this. If it weren't for the grave danger the Searex was in, her guardian would never have let her go. She needed to prove herself now.
"You know what we're here for, Narcis."
"I do. The little Cirrus and that fidgety Eizzil. They're safely locked up. You, in turn, know what I want."
Lanshar desperately held on to a neutral expression. A Cirrus and an Eizzil. That meant Buttercup, Breanja's Petpet, had not been caught. She was probably nearby. Buttercup had her own magic and could have evaded capture easily. If only she knew for sure. The fact that Narcis was negotiating with them meant that he needed them. He had not rushed over to the shelter to steal the Searex away. He must have found out they had beaten him to the shelter. She doubted he wanted to confront all of them at once to steal the Searex away. So, since he needed her help, he would have to listen to what she had to say.
"I know that you want the Searex. You want the Searex because you're being paid to find her. What if I paid you to help us instead?"
Narcis blinked in surprise. "You want me to help you?"
"Why not? You don't really care if some Maraquan warlord has some Petpet, do you? You just want a day's pay. And I can and will outbid whoever you're working for." She knew that paying him to stay away from them was not enough; she needed him with them, with his information and his network of contacts. They needed him in plain sight so he didn't take the pay and go after the Searex anyway.
Lanshar could see that she'd caught him by surprise. He had been expecting to be the one to make all the rules.
"All this is very interesting," he said slowly, "but I have a reputation to uphold. I signed a contract. If I break that, my worth in my... line of work is reduced to nothing. I would be out of the job, you know. Your offer would have to be very, very tempting."
Lanshar felt a tug of satisfaction. He'd taken the bait. She would not have to resort to combat. It would be all talking from here on.
"Oh, it is tempting. You loved nothing more than being a Battledome champion, didn't you? I can still see your love for the theatrics of Battle. You could easily have slipped into the library without dimming the lights and leaping off the shelves. So tell me, why aren't you performing any more?"
Before leaving she had asked Breanja, Jedd and Jaime all they knew about the mysterious Narcis, which hadn't been much, but enough. Jedd had simply stammered through much of what she knew already. She had not been able to get out of him how they'd met or why he'd referred to Jedd as 'Number Four'. Jaime had been more helpful. According to him, Narcis loved to talk.
"That's really a matter far too big for your little head, kid. But we're not here to chat about me--"
"I thought you liked a few pleasantries before negotiations?" asked Lanshar, lowering her eyelids.
"I seem to have lost my appetite for them. Tell me where the Searex is for one of the Petpets; once the Searex is in my possession you will receive the other one. You will find I am as good as my word."
"I have no doubt as to that," said Lanshar. "Do you know anything about the Searex you're after?"
A look of annoyance flashed through his eyes. He was underestimating her by not guarding his expression more carefully. So he doesn't know much about the Searex, she thought.
"Does it change anything for you to know that this Petpet has certain rare powers?"
"I knew there was something special about her, or why hire me to find a common Petpet?" said Narcis, looking interested despite himself. "But I was not given much information."
"The Searex is very powerful; she possesses old magic if the legend can be believed. Would you want such a powerful creature in your client's hands?"
"Well, no. Terrens wouldn't know the first thing about what to do with that kind of power. He'd likely test it out on me to get out of paying me. Now get to the point, little one, my patience is running thin."
"Do you know just how rare some of the books in Luminescent are?"
Narcis was silent.
"And just how much they would be worth to Collectors?"
"So, um, how exactly do you want me to help?" asked Narcis in a hoarse voice.
To be continued...