Illusions of Grandeur: Part Six
The ride back home was uneventful, and I was grateful for that. Johannes kept his thoughts to himself, and I returned to trying to understand what was happening. Lord Isaiah Peregrine was involved; any doubts about that had vanished at Doug’s words. I simply wished I was sure that Isaiah himself was the spellcaster. True, it was the likeliest solution, but it felt too simple, too neat, like there was some complication I was missing. I sighed, and tried to put thoughts of illusions out of my mind for the duration of the ride home.
Brightvale was beautiful, in the afternoon’s light, and I knew that. It wasn’t what I wanted right now, however; I wanted to see the mist rise from scrubby ground and muddy soil and hear Whoot calling softly in the shadows. I wanted to hear the clicking of old branches as wind blew, the creak and groan of wood rubbing against its kin. I wanted the Haunted Woods and the simpler darkness that resided there, not these complex webs where the most elaborate plans always fell the furthest and the charm built up around a house so often hid corruption in a twisted illusion of grandeur.
I could want all I wished and it would bring me no closer to understanding what was happening here. I tapped Johannes’s brown-spotted shoulder. “We’re almost there, aren’t we?”
The Uni nodded, glancing up at me but not saying anything.
“Let’s get home quickly, please.”
Johannes laughed and gave me barely enough time to take firm grip before he began to run. This time, I managed to stay with him better, for I was prepared for the onslaught of motion and emotion: flow and fear and elation woven into a beautiful whole that left me breathless when we neared the Serefini mansion and Johannes slowed his pace. Beneath me, Johannes’s breath came deep and heavy and I could feel him quivering slightly. I stroked his shoulder as I straightened in the saddle.
As I looked towards the mansion, I frowned. There was something playing just at the edge of my senses, a touch of magic that felt wrong, for lack of a better word. Not the chill wind of ghosts or the pure light of illusion, but something closer to the bitter frost of graveyards that, once, I had oft visited. Doug’s voice echoed in my head. Rumors of necromancy, he’d said. I hissed. “Johannes, please take me to the garden as quickly as possible without tiring yourself further.”
I felt Johannes’s questions, but he obeyed and didn’t ask. I was grateful for that, as I was focusing on that quiet feeling and trying to understand it better. Death blew around me as Johannes bore me closer to the garden, closer to the source of the feeling. I held on with my legs, my hands waving free in the air as I pulled on the innate magic of the land I was connected to by my blood, trying to ask it to explain to me what was going on in the garden, what was the core of the wrongness I so easily felt.
I got little response, and what I did receive was much what I already knew: something was wrong and it had to do with a body lying underground. I cursed. Necromancy was on the list of forbidden magics for a very good reason: it destroyed the natural order of the world for no reason other than a mage’s whims. I pulled at the land’s magic, asking it to reject the power suffusing it.
It didn’t want to.
I started swearing as creatively and eloquently as I knew how, and almost vaulted off Johannes as he reached the edge of the garden. My body protested the exertion; it wasn’t used to this anymore. Cursing with each exhalation of breath, I ran through the hedges and flowers to the Weewoo statue and Father’s grave, reaching out with magical senses I hadn’t used in years. The colors flowing over my eyes obscured my vision, and I started cursing the things I stepped on, tripped over, or ran into as I made my now-stumbling way through the garden.
Fortunately, I didn’t have much father to go. I hadn’t even reached the clearing where the statue stood when I heard a strong baritone voice speaking words I couldn’t understand. I knew the voice: Lord Isaiah Peregrine. I snarled and took the final steps into the clearing. “What in the name of Fyora are you doing?”
Peregrine turned to face me, and as he turned I saw my sister in his arms, a faint trickle of red spilling from her shoulder. He smiled, showing sharp teeth. “Exactly what your sister requested of me, Lord Serefini.”
I breathed slowly, trying to calm myself down. My nails dug into the palms of my hands hard enough to hurt. “My lord,” I said tightly, “please release my sister.”
He laughed and pulled one lightning-striped arm free from supporting Cecilia. “My dear boy, she asked me for help. How could I refuse such a beautiful lady as she?”
“My lord.” I began carefully flicking out my fingers, holding patterns of magic in my head. Light intertwined with the deep green-brown of the earth, seeking to protect Father’s body. “I do not understand why a forbidden art was called for, or why you knew of it.”
“I didn’t.” Peregrine shrugged casually. Cecilia’s arms flopped limply. The fur at the back of my neck stood on end, and it was all I could do to keep a carefully polite expression. Peregrine gave me another predatory smile as he stepped closer. “This little angel of Maria’s found out that I had some few sparks of magical talent and had once trained at the Institute – for only a year; it held little interest to me – and she asked me if I could bring her father back. I, of course, acquiesced.”
My light-weavings wrapped around Father’s coffin, and I relaxed marginally. “If you studied at the Institute, why then did you agree to the use of necromancy and illusion?”
I lashed out at him with an ill-conceived spell of wind and force. It hit Peregrine’s shoulder, and he staggered back a step, almost dropping Cecilia. I took a ragged breath. “Peregrine, release the spell before I am forced to unweave it.”
The Acara tilted his lightning-streaked head, feather in his hat waving. “Can you do that?”
I just smiled. The art of deconstructing spells was rarely taught except to the most promising students. I had been fascinated by it when I first learned, and Siobhan and I had spent many hours trying to figure out exactly how it worked. The end result was that I was very good at dispelling magic, but I needed to have assurance that my body would be safe. Thus why Siobhan and I worked together so well; the Ruki and I shored up each others’ weaknesses.
Lord Peregrine knew nothing of this. I suspected he believed I was bluffing; he had no reason to believe me. His words and the cock-eyed smile on his face confirmed my impression. “Lord Serefini, I do believe magic has more power than that.”
I laughed, closed my eyes, and dove into the realm of magic.
All around me colors wove and twirled, shining brilliantly to my eyes. The dark stain of silver necromancy filled my vision as it twisted around my shield of tightly-woven light. I took a breath, spinning my energy into light and pulling life gently from the garden. I formed the light into a loose net, tossing it over the necromancy. It barely reacted. I was unsurprised; most spells were set for a certain purpose, and if something outside that purpose interfered it was difficult for the mage to notice and adapt the spell; most didn’t even know how to allow for that.
I could. I just rarely did because there was little reason. Here, now... I took a deep breath and pulled the necromancy spell toward me. As I had suspected, it was tied to my sister. As carefully as I knew how, I pulled Cecilia’s gentle golden spirit out of the spell and let it drift back to her. I turned my attention to the rest of the spell, the lightning-struck silver and gray, and found it already dissolving, turning into mist and shadows and spirit once more. I hesitated, then released the shadows back into the world, opening my eyes and taking back my light.
Peregrine’s dusk-blue fur was dark against his whitened face. I raised my eyebrows. “Magic does have more power than that, Lord Peregrine,” I said quietly. “That power is in the wielder as much as the magic itself, however.” I moved close enough to take my waking sister from his arms. Right in his face, I smiled and murmured, “Please don’t get me wrong, Peregrine – I bear you no ill will for using necromancy. However, I do bear you ill will for using my sister to fuel your necromancy.”
Cecilia stirred in my arms as I stepped back, and I gently held her as she found her balance once more. She looked up at me, and shock and fear played across her face and her beautiful eyes. She turned to Peregrine and backed away, pressing herself against me. “M— m— monster!”
I gripped her starry shoulders. “Cecilia, Lord Peregrine said that you asked him to cast a necromantic spell.”
She shook her head violently, golden hair waving and brushing against my chin.
Lord Peregrine laughed. “My dear, don’t lie to your magus brother.”
“I’m not.” Cecilia whirled and stepped away from me, eyes narrowing. “I never asked for that.”
I crossed my arms. “What exactly is ‘that’?”
She looked away. “Not what I meant, when I asked for my father back.”
The silence stretched, the only sound the cheerful burble of water from the Weewoo’s beak. At last, Peregrine coughed delicately. “I’m afraid I must take my leave, my lord, my lady. Lady Merle has asked for a ball, after all.”
I bowed silently.
The electric Acara gave me a tight smile and retreated, his bright green eyes burning into me.
As soon as he was out of my sight, I grabbed Cecilia’s arm and pulled her back to the mansion, ignoring her complaints that I was hurting her. Near the mansion, I released her and escorted her inside, handing her off to a footman with a bow. I walked down the servants’ corridor, cold rage pulled around me as a shield. I opened Katrina’s door without warning and closed it behind me more quietly than I expected. “Tell me,” I said, “what do you know of Cecilia’s nighttime wanderings?”
Katrina sat back down in her chair, looking down at silver paws. “Giovanni, please.”
I leaned on the door and crossed my arms. “Katrina, I need to know, and I doubt she’ll talk to me now.”
“What happened, Gianni?” The elderly Wocky rose, looking worried.
I shook my head, refusing to meet her eyes.
“Stop acting like a child, Giovanni.”
“Katrina...” I sighed, spreading my hands. “Tell me what you know and I will tell you what happened.”
“Cecilia wanted to learn magic.” Katrina’s words came out quickly, clipped and sharp. “She thought she could have your attention and approval if she followed in your footsteps. Giovanni, you’re the closest thing she had to a father.”
I looked up at that, meeting Katrina’s anguished eyes. “But I left.”
“She was four when you left, Gianni. She can remember it.” Katrina placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezing slightly. “Please don’t hurt her, young master. I don’t think she’d be able to take it from you.”
“I—” My eyes dropped back to the floor. “Katrina, Lord Peregrine was using her blood to work necromancy. I stopped him, but...”
Katrina took a sharp breath. “Your mother will never believe you.”
I smiled grimly. “She doesn’t need to.” I turned and opened the door. “Please send a message to Doug, Katrina. I believe a professor as distinguished as he can arrive at Lady Merle’s ball without causing too much of a fuss, don’t you?”
Katrina laughed. “I do believe you’re right.”
I returned the laugh, bowed to her, and made my way upstairs to prepare for the ball.
To be continued...