The Remnant: Part Four
Mr. Sly had commanded him to stop, and stop he did – he had no choice. Lockwood was hit with the blast of what felt like the magic of a hundred different sorcerers, impossibly strong, crashing over him. It was so far beyond anything he had ever encountered that he could not even begin to resist – what would be the use? And, far too late, he remembered what Mr. Duplicity had mentioned: that Sly had borrowed a great deal of power from others.
It had been no idle threat.
The Halloween Kougra was surveying him in a cold, evaluating sort of way. “You’re just a little too distinct to go unrecognized... Mr. Lockwood.”
“I suppose that saves me the trouble of introducing myself,” was all the Gelert could really think of to say in reply.
“Well, this is convenient. Should allow for a much more personal touch.”
Lockwood was not very easily intimidated, but even to him, this sounded rather ominous.
There was, however, one point remaining in his favor – and that was Jeran. He had not dared to believe it at first, and yet it genuinely appeared that Mr. Sly could not see the knight at all. It was quite inexplicable until he remembered that, after all, Jeran had had the amulet’s protection while he had been under his own spell. Galling as it was to admit that his magic had proved inferior, it was perfectly logical.
As for Jeran, he was looking anxious and undecided, and Lockwood realized that he was considering revealing himself. This must be avoided at all costs. Whatever else happened, Jeran’s making his presence known could be nothing but worse than useless. Both of them would then be in captivity, and Jeran could be of no possible help to Lockwood.
But how to tell him that, Lockwood wondered desperately? In his mistaken loyalty, Jeran would be almost certain to reveal himself soon.
“You are not paying any attention,” remarked Mr. Duplicity, jerking him back to the present. “I am quite hurt. I had hoped you would acknowledge our great friendship, you know.”
“I am so excessively sorry,” he answered, his mind racing. If he attempted in any way to sign to Jeran, he would surely be discovered...
Duplicity turned to Sly. “Handsome, isn’t he? And so exquisitely well dressed. Pity about that scar.”
Yes, there was simply no way that he could communicate with Jeran without being noticed. Unless...
“I’m not interested in his personal appearance,” Sly said curtly. “Except maybe in contrast with what it’s going to be soon.”
Unless he made it so startlingly obvious that they did not believe him. Quite suddenly, Lockwood looked up. “You do realize, don’t you, that I am not alone?”
Sly smiled thinly and unpleasantly. “Is that so? I’d just love to meet your mystery companion.”
“Perhaps you will soon be so lucky as to have the chance,” Lockwood replied in cool defiance.
It was painfully clear that neither Sly nor Duplicity believed him at all. Looking straight at Jeran, he spoke clearly and decisively. “It would probably be best if you did not reveal yourself yet, until I tell you to, but I know that you are there.”
He was satisfied by Jeran’s nod, although the blue Lupe was biting his lip and clearly in some degree of conflict as to what he should do.
Sly, meanwhile, did not bother to conceal his amusement. “A very poor bluff, Mr. Lockwood,” he sneered. “Really, I had expected better from you.”
“Well,” Lockwood said graciously, “you must admit it was worth a try.”
The Kougra did not bother to reply. Instead, he turned and resumed his walk down the hall; Lockwood found himself obliged to follow suit. He was not naturally disposed to panic, and his rationality did not fail him now, but there was no denying that his present situation looked rather bleak. He could see no possible way of escaping Sly’s clutches – it was quite simply beyond his magical capabilities – and he had an uncomfortable feeling that there was nothing pleasant in store for him.
“Incidentally,” Sly remarked without turning his head, “did you like my friend? I hope she made a good servant.”
It took Lockwood only a moment to realize that he was referring to the lovely shapeshifting maid who had quite nearly managed to kill him a month or two before. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “A charming personality! – she could not have failed to please.”
“Just as well she’s dead, of course. She wouldn’t have been with us for very much longer after failing twice like that.”
“But then again,” put in Mr. Duplicity, who was strolling at leisure by Lockwood’s side, “perhaps it was altogether providential, for now you know we have you here with us. Charming!”
“Too charming for words,” agreed Lockwood.
Before they had gone very far, Sly halted in front of a door set deep in the stone wall. Jeran, Lockwood noted with approval, had the sense to slip in as the Kougra held the door open; as for Lockwood, he had no choice but to enter.
It was – unsurprisingly, given that they were after all in a castle – another dark, stone-walled room, dimly lit by torches. It also seemed strangely familiar. For a moment, he wondered whether he had somehow seen it in a dream. Then the obvious truth struck him: he had, of course, been to this place before, though he had not known it at the time. When he had been kidnapped by the original Mr. Sly and company, he had undoubtedly been kept in this very castle.
Sly shoved him roughly into a chair in the center of the room. It was, as far as Lockwood could tell, the only piece of furniture; Sly and Duplicity stood looking down on him, and he seized the opportunity to adjust his cravat.
“Well,” the Kougra remarked at last, with an unpromising grin, “it’s actually sort of interesting to meet you in the flesh. Really, I’m impressed that you had the nerve to come here. Was there something about my first two or three warnings that you didn’t understand?”
“You know,” Lockwood said conversationally, “the last time somebody said something similar, I ended up with a knife in my face.”
“Mm,” said Sly. A sheaf of papers appeared in his hand, and he flipped through them noncommittally. “Court Dancer, about a year ago. Oh yes,” he went on, seeing Lockwood’s arched eyebrow. “We know quite a lot about you, you’ll find. Age twenty-three, given name Harlan, aversion to being called by it – reason unknown.”
“Speaking of that,” Lockwood replied with his most ironic smile, “you appear to have quite an aversion to your name as well. In fact I do not believe you ever mentioned it.”
Sly glanced up briefly in Mr. Duplicity’s general direction. “You weren’t lying about the sense of humor.”
Lockwood took a deep breath, considering his options. It was clear that in the way of sorcery, he was completely outclassed; there was no hope at all that he would be able to escape in a sheer match of strength. Neither was he inclined to think that Sly would make a foolish error and give him a chance to be creative. Under his cool composure, his mind raced, but the best idea he could come up with was to keep Sly talking for as long as possible. He had absolutely no wish to find out what they might have prepared for him. “Prodigiously impressive. Pray tell,” he said slowly, “what else do you know about me?”
“You’d be surprised,” Sly answered dryly. “We could start with a list of names. Mary Ashcroft, Ellen Warren, Alice Wentworth, Nicole Colton, Jane Peterson, Evelyn Winters, Anne Benton –”
“Fascinating,” he said coldly, rather uncomfortably aware of Jeran standing in the corner.
“Oh, there was still an entire page left. But let’s move on, shall we? Some objective personal history: heir to the earldom of Harcourt; one sister, age nineteen; your father died five years ago, allegedly of natural causes; and your mother...well, I’m sure you know the rumors better than anyone. And yet it turns out she’s just living peacefully in Meridell, although it seems you kicked her off the estate.”
Lockwood’s mouth twitched slightly at the corner, but he remained silent.
Sly snapped his fingers; the papers disappeared. “Of course, there’s only one thing that really interests me.” He turned back to Duplicity, speaking again as though Lockwood were not present. “He does have a lot of magic – it’ll save me some time. And once I’ve drained him, you can run wild. Do what you do best, so to speak...”
This was becoming more and more urgent. Lockwood realized that he would only be able to stall Sly for so long – he could see without much effort that no attempts at flattery, pleading or bargaining would be effective. He needed to think of something, and fast.
And then an idea presented itself to him, as ideas often did at the last possible minute. The faerie he had called not many months ago – he had borrowed power from her in the past, in gradually increasing increments – could she possibly give him the amount that he needed now?
He closed his eyes, bringing to his mind the dark, misty image of the faerie. He reached for her desperately, searching for her magical presence – and found her. But only for an instant.
Was she – refusing?
“All right,” said Mr. Sly, rolling up his sleeves. “Let’s get this over with.”
Once again the faerie flashed before his eyes, tantalizing, her impossible white gaze searing through him. This time, she spoke. Is this really what you want?
Precisely how stupid does she think I am? he wondered, and reached again for the source of her power.
He found it and held on, feeling the exhilarating flow of power surging through him, more power than he had ever had before, doubling, tripling, quadrupling his strength. It was so wildly strong that he could barely direct its cold, dark current.
Lockwood opened his eyes. It was not enough power to defeat Sly, or even to hold him off for very long; but it would be enough to prevent him from doing what he was about to attempt. It would be enough to escape.
He felt Sly tearing at the very source of his magic, trying to rip it away, and he sent the spell back.
The Kougra recoiled in shock. “What the –”
Lockwood, however, had no inclination to hear the rest of the sentence. He leapt to his feet, dived forward to seize Jeran, and disappeared.
To be continued...