The Conspiracy: Part Ten
All heads turned to the guards; there was silence.
Jeran and Galgarrath rose simultaneously, but it was the Grarrl who managed to speak first. "What is the meaning of this?" he roared. "What has happened?"
The guards looked doubtfully at one another; the Draik replied, "As my subordinates were patrolling the halls adjacent to the one outside, they came across the body of Lord Haverish -- killed with a dagger to the heart!"
"I will not have this!" Skarl howled, and he pointed at Lord Darigan. "You will leave this castle now and you will not return."
A shocked murmur ran through the room; Lisha, it seemed, was not able to restrain a gasp.
"I implore you, Your Majesty --" Darigan began helplessly.
"As do I," put in Mr. Fox, at Skarl's indignant protest.
"And why bother?" asked Galgarrath, slamming his fist down on the table. "We have done our best. We have been insulted at every turn. I suspect a Meridellian plot to discredit us all! Let us take that fat Skeith's advice and leave this cursed castle for once and for all."
"Lockwood!" Lisha hissed suddenly into his ear. "Lockwood, the guard!"
It took him only a split second to understand what she meant. There stood the Darigan guard, fully armed, just two feet away from the King...
And just as he turned his head, quick as lightning, the Techo raised his spear and thrust with all his might at King Skarl’s heart.
Lockwood barely made it, but make it he did; he jumped up from his seat, and the spear's point froze, halted in mid-air, just an inch from its intended destination. Instantly his actions were met with a magical assault, ferociously locked against his spell and corroding it quickly.
He redoubled his efforts, hoping frantically that it would be enough -- and to his utmost relief, Lord Darigan, finally understanding what had happened, took over. The spear dissolved into shadow, and the guard could not move.
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Jeran went immediately to work removing the King from the room. The ambassadors left voluntarily, many of them quite close to hysterics. Lord Darigan stood rubbing his chin thoughtfully, the coldly disapproving Galgarrath at his side, observing the would-be assassin.
Lockwood and Lisha looked at one another almost guiltily and made their way over to where the guard stood frozen, glaring at them all. "It's -- a shapeshifter," gasped Lockwood. "It has been all along."
"And you have known this since when?" Fox's soft voice cut through the air, and his pale eyes were fixed on Lockwood's own.
"Don't blame him!" cried Lisha. "There was nothing we could do -- any sign that we knew might have endangered the King. We have only known since just before the conference began."
Lockwood turned to the guard and was startled to see that it had shifted shape into the lovely lilac Acara he knew so well. The candlelight gleamed on her wide indigo eyes, and her mouth was curved cruelly upward at the corners.
"You must be so proud," she said with a mocking, burning smile. "But how did you reach your brilliant conclusion?"
"This is not a personal affair --" began Mr. Fox; she cut him off.
"Oh, but you are incorrect. It is very personal for the handsome Mr. Lockwood... or at least it certainly was."
Lord Darigan shook his head wearily. "I have no desire to know what you are insinuating. You are subject to Meridellian law, and as perpetrator of the worst possible crime, I believe it is safe to say that you will shortly be hanged."
"Oh dear," she murmured, smiling hideously in Lockwood's direction. "At least, before I die, I will know how to tie a cravat..."
Lockwood, furious beyond compare, coldly returned her gaze. He hated her -- it -- he had never been so shamefully deceived in his life -- and he would have given a great deal, just at that moment, to see her dead. But he would not lose his composure.
"I have a message," she continued, raising her voice. "To Meridell, Mr. Sly sends his regards."
"Impossible," breathed Fox. "Mr. Sly is dead..."
"So he is -- the old Mr. Sly. But as for the current Mr. Sly, he wishes you to know that the Meridellian throne belongs to him and him alone, and that he will use whatever means may become necessary to ensure that it is his." She flitted between shapes now, like a random kaleidoscope of Neopets she had once known, so quickly that her form blurred. "Believe me, I am only the beginning."
A quartet of Meridellian guards stepped forward, spears at the ready.
"And that is all?" growled Galgarrath.
"Just one more thing," she whispered, settling back into the shape of Roxie, and her eyes met Lockwood's. "I think you're repulsive."
Lisha tensed for an outburst, but none came. Lockwood simply stood, arms crossed, waiting impassively.
"It's a shame the fat king isn't here, but I trust you will pass the message along. And now -- goodbye, all of you."
The lines of her edges began to blur as crackling golden fire spread across her, consuming her within an instant; she spilled to the floor as ash.***
Lisha sat pensively, watching Lockwood sleep. It was surprisingly interesting -- with his features entirely in repose, blissfully unaware of her presence, she thought he looked much nicer, if perhaps not quite as handsome. She was particularly amused to see that Bunny had managed to situate himself under the Gelert's arm and was snuggling quite peacefully into his white shirt (Lockwood, Lisha had noticed by now, appeared to sleep almost exclusively in his shirtsleeves).
It had occurred to her that perhaps he deserved a little sympathy, for she considered that he had behaved -- despite his previous, irritating apathy -- quite valiantly. And, while she persevered in the belief that Lockwood did not have feelings quite like others', she felt obliged to set a good example.
Bunny flicked an ear, and Lockwood opened his eyes drowsily. Seeing Lisha, he rolled over, glaring. "Don't you know that it is extremely rude to watch someone while they are sleeping?"
"No, I hadn't heard that," she returned smartly.
With an effort he sat up, looking at Bunny with a certain amount of distaste. "What is this thing doing in my bed?"
"The same thing you are, probably," Lisha said wickedly. "How do you feel?"
"Oh! Quite terrible. And you know," he went on thoughtfully, "I think, on top of everything else, that I am developing a cold."
He did sound rather hoarse. "Well, you'll live -- but I am sorry," she said, relenting a little. "You do seem to have a knack for getting hurt, don't you?"
"Considering the things I do, I find it nothing short of amazing that I am not yet dead."
"Speaking of the things you do," she remarked thoughtfully, "what exactly did happen between you and that maid?"
"Nothing!" he exclaimed rather defensively.
"Except that she tried to kill you?"
"Oh -- yes," he agreed with a sigh, staring out the window at the early morning sun filtering dully into the room. "Yes, she did that."
"How?" she inquired promptly.
Lockwood gave her his coldest stare. "If you absolutely must know, she attempted to strangle me. With," he finished a little lamely, "my cravat."
"I've thought about that a few times!" said Lisha in surprise, before she could stop herself. "But -- oh no, Lockwood, I'm sorry -- I don't mean that, really. Only... it is a little amusing, isn't it?"
Seeing her suspiciously blissful grin, Lockwood groaned inwardly and began calculating how long it might reasonably take for her to forget it. "No, it is not."
"But how did you know all of this?" she asked suddenly.
"Our dear friend the maid was kind enough to tell me," he replied smoothly. And, upon observation, it appeared that Lisha had swallowed the lie. It was just as well -- he did not care to explain and hardly liked to admit to himself that he had believed the icy faerie without question. His only explanation was that she had seemed so remarkably convincing, but that was a poor excuse and he knew it. But the Aisha had clearly turned her thoughts to another page and was sitting with her arms crossed, thinking.
"Hmm," she said. "There is just one thing that puzzles me. Why you? Why bother? There was really no call to try to kill you, either time."
"That is a question that I am pleased and proud to say I cannot answer, but I believe I can guess."
"Consider it a personal grudge. I ruined their plans once before; they dislike me for it."
"Oh," she said. "Well, I suppose that makes sense. Simply really."
"And now we can amuse ourselves with wondering what they may do next."
Lisha shuddered. "Don't even talk about it. I don't know what they will do to try to find this Mr. Sly, but I hope they succeed. Well," she said, rousing herself, "I suppose I'd better let you get some rest... and I hope you feel better."
"Thank you," he replied wearily, sinking back down into the pillows.
He watched her leave and, pulling up the feather quilt, prepared to go back to sleep. He was thwarted in this endeavour, however, by the sudden and silent appearance of the icy faerie. It was peculiarly unnatural to see her against the morning light, her faint translucent glow casting -- impossibly -- a shadow over the room.
"What do you want?" he demanded, wishing to close his eyes but somehow unable to, caught as ever in her haunting, black-rimmed white gaze.
"Only to congratulate you," she replied with her cryptic smile. "We are old friends, you know."
"What -- what do you mean?" He sat up again, feeling an odd sensation of unease.
"You and I have always known one another, Mr. Lockwood," she murmured, as a soft breeze from nowhere gently lifted the silver locks of her hair. "Yes, I know you, better than anybody else could ever hope to. And now, I am glad that you will soon be perfectly well. Because there are some friends of mine who have been waiting a long time to meet you."***
The only thing that seems to be a constant is that prickly feeling along the back of your neck, when your mind considers a dark deed... and that's where they are waiting for you.
-- The Neopedia