The Traitor: Part Six
“Our bargain,” said Lockwood simply.
Mr. Duplicity paced with infectious nervousness from one side of the room to the other. “I hate to sound self-pitying, Mr. Lockwood, but I have been seriously inconvenienced by your sudden unfriendliness. My dearest friend Mr. Tricks seems inclined to think that my ideas are not working, and he is threatening to take over himself. I don’t want that for you, Mr. Lockwood, really I don’t.”
Lockwood, who had by no means forgotten the Mr. Duplicity of the previous night and was not to be disarmed, regarded him coolly. “I want to see Lisha.”
“You must understand that we cannot keep making concessions for you. We cannot afford to be making endless exceptions and bargains. This is where we draw the line – my last straw of influence.”
“I assure you that I understand you perfectly well.”
The Krawk shot him a doubtful glance, then shrugged. “Well, if you insist on seeing her, then I suppose we must let you! But only this once, Mr. Lockwood,” he added. “Only this once.”
“Oh, naturally,” agreed Lockwood, and Mr. Duplicity regarded him uncertainly. Disheveled and mutinous, the shadow Gelert in fact made a more intimidating impression than he was aware; even in his softer moments there was something vaguely imposing about him and now, having discarded much of his customary courteous manner, he appeared quite directly threatening.
“We will have to blindfold you, you know – surely you will understand that it would be sheer madness to show you the way, and you really cannot expect –”
“That is of no concern to me,” said Lockwood impatiently. “I have no interest in escaping.”
Mr. Duplicity shook his head helplessly. “Well, then, I suppose we may as well begin.”
On some cue unknown to Lockwood, several large Neopets entered and surrounded him in a menacing sort of way; but they only blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back in a manner quite considerate given the circumstances.
Lockwood hoped that he did not look as nervous as he felt, for his entire bargain was based on reckless confidence. Mr. Duplicity and his friends would only cooperate as long as they considered him dangerous.
He was doubly uneasy being led along with no idea at all of where he was going, and so he did his best to concentrate on what he could hear around him – which was very little.
Instead he began to wonder why his captors insisted on such secrecy. His knowing where Lisha was kept, even assuming that he could possibly remember the way, did not strike him as particularly threatening. They would be sure to notice the instant he left his room – he would need magic to do so, and with magic he could just as easily discover Lisha’s whereabouts on his own. No; Lockwood suspected that Mr. Duplicity had another reason altogether for being so extraordinarily cautious, though he had no conception of what that reason might be.
Quite suddenly a door closed behind him and somebody uncovered his eyes.
Lisha was lying peacefully on the eiderdown quilt of a large, four-poster bed, which contrasted oddly with the frugal bareness of the rest of the small white room. In fact, as far as Lockwood could observe, there was not one other piece of furniture aside from a small white chair in the corner.
Perhaps the most peculiar thing was the fact that Lockwood could feel magic around him. He felt it – slightly; he thought that it was there, but he could not tell what it was. It hovered just out of his reach like a faint sound that he could not quite catch, and it gave him an odd feeling of anxiety, as though something in him recognized that it should not be there.
Again he wondered who wrote the spells he was ordered to perform.
Mr. Duplicity’s voice cut through the silence. “You see? As promised, she is perfectly all right.”
Lockwood did not answer. He stared at Lisha, wondering why he could detect the faint traces of magic around her. Surely they had drugged her, not spelled her into sleep – and surely, if there were magical wards surrounding the room, he would be able to feel them more obviously than this.
The oddest thing of all was that when he reached out mentally toward where he thought the wards must be, something slipped away from him quite deliberately.
“If it would not be too much trouble to you, Mr. Lockwood, perhaps we could leave now?” suggested Mr. Duplicity. “We have work for you to do, you know...”
Quite spontaneously, because he knew that he would lose his nerve if he so much as stopped to consider it, Lockwood darted to Lisha to catch hold of her and transport them both away.
The guards jumped forward, but it was too late – Lockwood’s hands met nothing but air and Lisha’s image fizzled in and out of existence in front of him.
They caught him quickly and tied his hands behind his back again, pinning him rather painfully against the wall.
“I am sorry, Mr. Lockwood,” said Mr. Duplicity, uncorking a bottle of something with a truly foul smell.
Lockwood woke up feeling dizzy and sick in a manner which he recalled all too well. The difference this time was that he was in his room, not a dungeon, and that Mr. Duplicity stood somewhere off to the side and a large grey Eyrie sat in front of him.
“Mr. Lockwood,” began the Krawk in a rather strained voice, “allow me to introduce my dear associate, Mr. Tricks.”
Lockwood did not very much like the look of the Eyrie. There was a certain cruel, amused gleam in his eye that hinted at a good deal more menace than Mr. Duplicity had to offer; and his first words were not calculated to soothe.
“We have a problem, Mr. Lockwood.”
Mr. Tricks. Mr. Tricks... why did that ring a bell? And why in the world had the two of them picked such bizarre names to begin with? They could not possibly be real...
The Eyrie’s harsh, discordant voice drew him forcefully back to the present. “We have a problem because we don’t know what to do with you.”
“Perhaps you should simply dispose of me and get it over with,” suggested Lockwood with equal unpleasantness.
“And as you know, we cannot do that.”
“You need my magic,” said Lockwood drowsily. “Dead end, I’m afraid.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to refuse our demands,” snarled Mr. Tricks. “I think you have some serious misconceptions about your situation. There is no reward, Mr. Lockwood; there is no bargaining. You will help us because your life will not be worth living if you don’t.”
“Let me see if I understand you correctly: I am very valuable to you until I have done whatever it is that you want me to do. After that you have no incentive at all to let me live. I no longer believe that Lisha is in your hands and there is certainly nothing else for me to look forward to should I elect to cooperate. Really, Mr. Tricks, what would you advise me to do?”
The Eyrie dealt Lockwood a vicious, ringing slap in the face, his talons leaving three long red scratches and the first signs of an unpleasant bruise. Behind him Mr. Duplicity cringed, and even Lockwood drew back with a shiver as Mr. Tricks leaned forward. “I’ve had just about enough of your tongue,” he said softly. “So I would advise you to hold it before you lose it. Nothing we are asking of you requires you to be able to speak.”
Lockwood was far too defeated to reply, or even really to comprehend the magnitude of the danger he was in. He simply closed his eyes and listened passively.
“I have an idea that you’re very fond of being alive, Mr. Lockwood. So let’s keep it that way, shall we? Here is your next spell. It’s midday – you will have it done by three o’clock.”
“I can’t,” stated Lockwood wearily. “It just isn’t possible.”
“Figure it out,” sneered Mr. Tricks, and let the paper flutter to the ground. “Regan! Come in here and see that he does.”
“Mr. Tricks, if I may be so bold as to suggest it – would it not be more practical to untie him...?” suggested Mr. Duplicity.
“Whatever you like,” replied the Eyrie, slamming the door behind him.
Mr. Duplicity gave Lockwood an extraordinarily gleeful, malicious smile. “Well, well – what did I tell you?”
That was as much as Lockwood remembered. He sat limply on the couch, holding a gloved hand to his stinging cheek, feeling quite incapable of doing magic or anything else. The Poogle maid sat at his desk and looked at her knees.
“You must be so proud of your employers,” he remarked nastily when the silence had stretched on for an exceedingly long time.
“Well, you deserved it,” she retorted without a great deal of enthusiasm. “I’m sure there are people who would give their lives to see you get slapped in the face.”
“Oh, you might be surprised. Most people like me very much, you know...” It was true, he thought with interest – with the notable exceptions of Lisha (formerly) and this maid, whatever her name was.
As a matter of fact, he knew what her name was. “Regan, if I remember correctly?”
She looked up. “Yes. You must be terribly excited to know it.”
“Well,” he said, with the shadow of a smile, “it isn’t as though I have anything more pressing to concern myself with at the moment.”
“It’s one o’clock already,” Regan remarked abruptly. “I suggest getting started on that spell. In the meantime I have to go take care of something. And don’t,” she added coldly, “think of trying anything.”
To be continued...