The Remnant: Part Seven
Lisha was now acquainted with all of the details of their escapade which Lockwood had seen fit to provide, and after a short intermediary step, Lockwood was now making his way down to the archery range for the second time in as many days – a truly remarkable occurrence, given that he had no interest whatever in the sport and had never visited the place before in his life.
As for the intermediary step, it had involved the sending of a letter; more specifically, a letter to a Miss Cecilia Lockwood, who enjoyed the honor of being his younger sister. In it he had entreated her (with full conviction of being obeyed) to come to the Castle as quickly as possible. His reasoning was thus: so long as she was immediately under his eye, no harm could reach her. Surely there was nowhere she would be so safe as at Meridell Castle, and Lockwood did not intend to give Mr. Sly the opportunity to make good on his threat.
Now that he felt his sister would be secure, he had ceased to entertain any fears on her behalf, and could devote his full attention to discovering the truth about Regan Harlow – an undertaking which, when he considered it, appeared in any case long overdue.
He found the yellow Poogle under a large shady tree instructing several of the castle squires, with no overwhelming amount of patience. “No!” she was exclaiming irritably, as she seized the bow of a rather timid-looking white Blumaroo and shook it in his face. “You couldn’t possibly be more wrong if you tried. Now take your bow and –”
She stopped midsentence as she and the squires became aware of the sorcerer’s presence. “Well, well, how nice of you to drop by,” she remarked rather dryly.
“So I flatter myself!” he replied calmly.
After a moment’s hesitation, Miss Harlow turned to the group of squires. “Well, off you all go. Far be it from me to quarrel with the wishes of a Royal Sorcerer!”
Lockwood watched them go, remarking with some amusement, “I have a great enjoyment of your tongue; I had quite forgotten your general impertinence and lack of respect for anybody.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk,” she scoffed.
“How so? – I am most excessively sorry to hear you say so. I had imagined that I was sufficiently wealthy to escape any possibility of impertinence.”
“Hilarious,” she muttered, turning to face him with arms crossed. “Well? What did you come about? I received your note this morning and followed all instructions to the letter. She was a very good helper, you know. It was a shame to dismiss her like that.”
This revelation did not concern Lockwood in the least. “I am very glad to hear it. I am here, however, about something else.”
“Don’t trouble yourself to tell me what it is. I have all day to stand here, you know.”
It appeared to Lockwood that Miss Harlow had, if anything, become significantly worse-tempered since her rescue from her captors. “You might begin by explaining to me how exactly you came to be in the employment of Mr. Duplicity and company.”
The question was clearly not one she had been expecting, and she was quite obviously taken aback. “Oh!” she said, sounding for the first time less than sure of herself. “Well, that is a long and complicated story...”
“Then it is fortunate, is it not, that we are both at liberty to stand here all day?”
Still she did not appear eager to tell him. “Why the sudden curiosity? I hardly imagine it’s due to any interest in me.”
“No,” he agreed, wondering how much to tell her. “To be concise, our good friend Mr. Duplicity is still at large and causing us problems. Nobody seems to know anything about him; therefore, your information would be helpful.”
“Hmm,” said Miss Harlow. Evidently she was out of excuses, for at last she began her story. “I suppose I should begin by telling you that my father is Robert Harlow – founder of PD Secure Storage, you know.” Seeing that this was not remotely enlightening, she added scornfully, “Trust a Meridellian not to know what that is! In any case, he was the founder of a large corporation. I grew up in Neopia Central, and we moved to Krawk Island when I was twelve. But none of that will, of course, interest you. The long and short of it is that, a little over a year ago, I made a bet.”
This seemed such an unlikely conclusion to such a commencement that Lockwood raised an eyebrow rather incredulously.
Regan sighed. “The terms really aren’t important. Suffice it to say that I had too much time and money on my hands and not much understanding of the real world. The bet I made was with one Mr. Duplicity – or, as I knew him then, Mr. Lester.”
“Ah!” cried Lockwood. “Of course; he is from Krawk Island himself. But what else can you tell me about him?”
“Not a great deal,” she replied with a shrug. “Everybody there has heard of him, although not necessarily under that name. Actually, he has so many aliases that nobody really has any idea who he is, or where he came from – I don’t know that he particularly favors any one name over the others, either. But what I can tell you is that he is a notorious crook.”
“I suppose that is not altogether astonishing.”
“Well, anyway... I made this bet and, in fact, I lost. The thing was, I had been a little overconfident. The amount of money I now owed him was – truly staggering. True, my father could have paid it easily enough, but I hardly liked to admit to him why I needed it! When I explained as much to Mr. Lester, he offered me a wonderful alternative.
“His generous offer, his brilliant idea, was that I should simply borrow the money from my father, without telling him, and pay him back. This seemed fair enough to me, and I agreed. It turned out that what he had in mind was the robbery of one of the company’s principle warehouses, and I was the one who provided the location. Which,” she added with a defiant glare, as though daring Lockwood to make any comment upon the morality of her actions, “I regret only for its stupidity. It was really my money too, anyway, when you think about it.”
“Do proceed,” he replied, stifling a yawn. There was not a great deal in the story to interest him, as it concerned neither himself nor any mention of magic; he hoped that she would have done soon.
“Well, I went with them. It was successful, and the heist was absolutely enormous – one of the most famous of the decade. (As you or anyone with an ounce of intelligence can probably deduce, it involved a lot more money than what I owed him.) I imagined, of course, that it was all over with. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. You see, that was when the extortion began.
“He threatened to tell my father everything – unless I came and worked with him for a month. I was outraged by the suggestion at first, of course, but eventually I came to realize that it was probably better than the alternative.”
At this point in time, it did occur to Lockwood to make an inquiry. “Why, precisely, was your father’s anger so very much to be feared?”
“Because of the inheritance, of course,” she replied, in a tone which implied that this was quite obvious. “I fully intended – and still intend – to inherit his empire when he dies. In any case, I agreed. But a month turned into two, and then three, and in the end when you met me I had worked there for half a year, without pay. I’m sure the other employees were hired by a similar method. Before you ask, I didn’t really do very much. It was mostly odd jobs; the work,” she pronounced with disgust, “of an absolute servant. We were never told anything, not even when Mr. Lester suddenly moved to Meridell and became Mr. Duplicity.”
“And who is Mr. Tricks?”
“That I can’t tell you. But he was a very unpleasant fellow, I can tell you that much. To be honest, I wouldn’t have hired either Duplicity or Tricks myself. They both seemed somewhat unstable, and there were one or two things which convinced me that Duplicity was simply insane.”
Intriguing, he thought, but not particularly helpful – none of this was. “What was your relation to Mr. Sly?”
“Nonexistent. We never heard of him. Although...” She trailed off thoughtfully for a moment. “Come to think of it, they did occasionally refer to a he. But that’s really all I can tell you.”
Lockwood did not know exactly what he had hoped for, but it had been more than this. Nevertheless, he accepted the waste of half an hour with composure; perhaps Lisha had had better luck in her search.
When he discovered Lisha in a corner of the Castle Library, her nose was quite characteristically in a large book, and she failed to notice his approach until he was immediately before her. “Oh! – Lockwood. I didn’t hear you.”
“Somehow,” he replied, “that does not particularly astonish me. Have you found anything of interest?”
“Well, yes,” she said, rubbing her nose with a slight frown and setting aside the massive tome. “Actually, something quite disturbing. It’s not exactly easy, you know, to find information about the original Sly, Tricks and Duplicity in this library; I suppose it benefits the monarchy to keep it as well hidden as possible. But I did, at last, find a complete history.”
“And what about it, pray, is disturbing? Unless of course you mean to keep me in suspense for some time.”
“What’s disturbing... is that as far as I can tell, the original Mr. Sly may actually have had a legitimate claim to the throne. He was double-crossed, in other words, before he did any double-crossing of his own.”
“And in what manner do you find that disturbing?”
“Oh, you are hopeless,” Lisha said irritably. In a moment, however, she was lost in thought. After a moment she sighed and remarked, “It really is too bad we can’t get to the Brightvale library at the moment; they have absolutely everything there. How I love Brightvale! Not that I mean any disloyalty to Meridell, of course, but their emphasis on learning and knowledge of all sorts is exactly what I find practical and intelligent.”
“A vile little country, filled with peculiar foods and colorful windows,” was Lockwood’s contribution.
At this Lisha could not refrain from smiling, though she felt a sharp reproof was in order. “You know, sometimes I really cannot decide whether you are expressing an actual opinion or simply aiming to make me laugh.”
“I assure you, nothing could be farther from my heart than a desire to make you laugh.”
“Didn’t you go to Brightvale, not too long ago? To a ball?”
“Oh! yes; a shabby little affair with very few people worth talking to. I did have a tolerable conversation with a Duke whose name I have now forgotten. It was the one you met in your studies there, I believe – the Kau. He did not speak very much, which suited me exactly.”
“If I had such a ridiculous accent, I would not speak very much either,” Lockwood observed dispassionately. “In any case, the only other point of remote interest was that there was some sort of magical encounter between several of the guests; which, I must say, was remarkably ill-mannered of them. However, it was altogether quite uneventful.”
“Well,” said Lisha, resuming their original subject, “in any case, there is no disputing that Brightvale Castle has the superior library. But I did think to research something else, as well as the history of Mr. Sly and his accomplices – here, look.” From the pile beside her she drew out another large books, this one quite simply entitled The Arte of Takinge Magick. “What I really wanted to know, was how Mr. Sly is doing what you say he is.”
“That,” conceded Lockwood, “is in fact a very fair point. I had been wondering that myself. How has he amassed so much power, in so short a time – for that matter, how has he amassed so much power at all? Surely it should not be possible. If it is as simple as he makes it appear, then why does every sorcerer not attempt to do the same?”
Lisha gave him a rather dark look. “To begin with, because it is highly unethical. However, from what I can tell... the talent is quite rare. In theory, any sorcerer with sufficient power should be able to do it, but not to the extent which he seems to have managed. And, apparently, it’s also very difficult to keep all the magic together. Any time you increase your power beyond its natural bounds, it becomes that much harder to manage.”
Though Lockwood was already more than aware of this himself, he did not find it expedient to enlighten her as to the conditions of his knowledge. He could not fathom how Sly managed to hold all those sorcerers’ magic in one piece, particularly since he guessed intuitively that each would struggle to free itself as long as it was held.
“Then, of course, there is the question of the actual power transfer.”
“How do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, you try it.” As he only gazed at her in puzzlement, she repeated the invitation. “Go on, try to take my magic. I won’t even make an effort to resist.”
Somewhat doubtingly, Lockwood reached out with his magical senses and found the golden warmth of Lisha’s power. Then, finding that instinct supplied him with the necessary knowledge, he began to rip it out by the roots.
Almost immediately the full force of her sorcery flared up against him, fighting his onslaught like a live thing, pushing him back even as he pushed forward. He could, perhaps, have succeeded, with a massive expenditure of energy; but that was due solely to the power he had gained from the icy faerie. On his own, he would have had no hope at all.
“Yes, I see,” he told her, drawing his own magic back.
“I must say that feels very unpleasant,” Lisha remarked with a shiver. “Anyway, you get the idea. As to how Sly has managed it, I really can think of no solution except that he must be alarmingly good at it, and has probably amassed most of his power from sorcerers who were not particularly talented to begin with.”
“How unsatisfactory! But I suppose we will have to be content with that explanation, for the present.” Then again, he reflected, the father of the current Mr. Sly had seemed to have access to a great deal of magical information supposedly lost to the rest of Neopia. He had known how to write the magical script, and he had known how to eliminate the traces of a spell – after all, he had forced Lockwood to perform that skill, unknowingly, upon himself. Altogether it did not strike him as very promising for himself, or Lisha, or any of the residents of Meridell Castle.
“I suppose we will,” she agreed. “In the meantime, I will see what else I can find here. I don’t suppose you would care to help?”
“While no wish could possibly be dearer to me, I have in fact several other pressing matters to attend to, such as my dinner.”
“You are without doubt the laziest being I have ever encountered.”
“Thank you,” Lockwood replied, “I am sure it does great credit to my intelligence.”
To be continued...