Order of Four: Part Eleven
Away from the strangely enclosed atmosphere of the cave, I blinked. It was dark outside now, and the fields stretched silently outward from the manor house, waving just a little in the late evening breeze. The house itself towered above us, looking even less friendly than it had this morning; and in the window of the study above, I could see the silhouette of Lance Carlisle's feathered hat.
"He's waiting for us," remarked the Sword. In the near-total darkness he should have been as frightening as he had been that night in the alley, but for whatever reason he now seemed less so. It was as though, at some point, I had simply passed the point of fear. There didn't seem to be much use in it anymore, not now when there was nothing I could do to save myself. Perhaps, if I was lucky, they would let me live; more likely they would simply kill me when the night was done. Either way my fate was no longer in my hands. There was a certain irony to it; I had faced the Order to avoid that very thing, playing the part of a pawn in some larger game. In the end, I was a more insignificant pawn than ever. Even hiding and running, I could have retained some semblance of free will. Instead I had reached a dead end.
"The diamond shard is heavily warded," the Seer hissed beside me. "You are the only one who can break the wards and enter."
"And if I can't?"
"You will." Ilyis's voice cut through the silent darkness. "You will go now, you will break the wards, and you will retrieve the diamond shard and bring it back to us, along with Lance Carlisle."
To my horrified fascination, I felt my legs moving forward of their own account, just as my tongue had earlier. Quickly I fought to resume control; it seemed that, so long as I intended to follow her commands myself, the magic lay sentient.
There was no need for stealth now. Carlisle knew we were here, it was quite obvious. I could only wonder why he had not taken the opportunity to escape before we arrived, since he must know full well that the Order would be very displeased with him by now.
I found him in his study. The lamps were on, and he was leaning against his desk with a glass of something red, arms crossed. He studied me as I stood in the doorway, his ice blue gaze taking in my grey coat. "I thought you might come. I must congratulate you on your official entrance into the Order of Four."
Suddenly I was furious. Here was the man who had known everything, all along – who had watched my mother struggle and starve without lifting a finger, who had held the key to every answer I sought and never bothered to tell me. "You knew," I snarled. "You knew what was going to happen."
"Oh, spare me. Your father at least had more spirit. Surely you can't deny that I warned you? How was I to know you would go giving yourself up to the Order? I told you that everything was lost once they found you."
It was true to the letter, but he was twisting words and I knew it. Never again, I vowed, would I be taken in by Lance Carlisle. "You haven't gained very much yourself. I'm here to retrieve that piece of the diamond you never thought to mention to me, and to take you back as well. So if you have any way of evading me, I suggest you try it now." Much as I despised him, I hated Ilyis even more; if there was even one single part of her plan that could go wrong, I wanted to help it along as best I could.
"Thank you for the advice, but I think we could come up with something more... mutually beneficial." He turned his head slightly to one side, raising his glass in an elegant gesture, and the ice clinked just a little. "How would you like to be free of the Order of Four, Mr. Blakesley?"
"There is no way," I said dully. I was still angry at Carlisle, but it was a weary, distant sort of anger now. "You know that better than I do."
"Do I?" he remarked coolly as I began to break through the wards. Now that I had already used my Conjurer's power once, it was instinctive, almost obvious. I felt the magic of the warding spells as though they had a physical presence, and I knew without even thinking about it how to push at them, bending them until they broke. I could not but confess that there was something intoxicating about it, this power of the Order. It was a pity it came at so high a price.
Still Carlisle, to my perplexity and frustration, made no move to get away. "I would venture to speculate that perhaps you have spent less time thinking about this than I have," he continued. "What if I were to tell you that there is, in fact, a way for you to leave the Order of Four – one which would prove quite pleasing to both of us?"
I wrenched the outer ward aside and set to work on the inner one. It was wrapped more tightly around the diamond shard, where it sat in Carlisle's desk drawer, and it was stronger. "What if I were to tell you that nothing in this world could persuade me to trust you?"
I could tell that he had not really expected any resistance from me, and that he was more displeased than he liked to show. But what was he looking for? What did he want so desperately, that I could give him – so desperately that he would risk his life to gain it?
"You would be well advised to listen to me," he said at last; the anger in his voice was evident, but controlled. "After all, you really have nothing to lose."
"Why does it matter to you, Carlisle?" I countered. "What do you want from me? What does any of this interest you at all?"
He glared at me for a moment, hesitating. I expected an evasion – but instead he merely shrugged. "Because I want to join the Order myself, of course," he said rather irritably.
After all that had happened to me in the past eight hours, it took a moment to understand what he was saying. Even then, I did not believe it. I could not believe it. Not from Lance Carlisle, of all people – not from the very man who had explained to me the nature of the Order and the horror of being in its iron grip. It was as though he had told me he wanted to die in my place. "How could you want that?" I asked, utterly stupefied. The second ward was gone, broken down, but I made no move to retrieve the diamond.
"My dear Felix, you are just like your father. To you, I understand, the idea of being under anyone's orders but your own is intolerable. To me it is, shall we say, a sacrifice I am willing to make in order to get what I want."
"Which is... what?"
"Really, I thought you were more intelligent than this. What do you think? Power, naturally. As you can see, I am being very forthright about my motives. I want the power of the Conjurer immediately, with a possible long-term benefit of much greater power, if and when the diamond is reassembled. But short of that, since Ilyis will never trust me now, I can settle for the Conjurer's powers."
It was highly likely that I had only a few hours left in this world, and I was wasting them listening to Lance Carlisle. The thought was profoundly depressing. "I suggest you ask the rest of them, then. They will probably be taking applications very soon."
I reached forward, clasping my fingers around the diamond piece. It was heavier than I had expected, and electric to the touch, though its faint glow was nothing compared to the power of the nearly-completed whole. Could this really be the end, I wondered? All those years my mother had spent protecting me, all her cryptic hints and entreaties, all those different places we had lived to avoid them, and in the end none of it had really mattered. All we had managed to do was delay the inevitable for sixteen years. I had never thought much about my mother's life, but now I did: I thought about what she had sacrificed for my father's sake, and for mine. And my father – who had he been? Why had he chosen to bequeath his awful legacy to his only son, surely knowing that it would end in my death?
If only I had time to ponder these questions. But I never would. Time was all I wanted now, and it was exactly what I didn't have.
"Felix," Carlisle said, more urgently now. I saw, somewhat to my satisfaction, that his composure was beginning to crack. "Listen to me. Give me a hearing, at least."
"You should leave," I advised him. "I am under strict orders to take you back with me. Soon I won't be able to help myself."
He sighed in frustration, snatching off his feathered hat and leaning against the bookcase. "You wouldn't be able to now. Use your head, you silly boy – if I made any move to escape your orders would come into effect and you would stop me where I stood. Now please just listen," he continued hurriedly. "You need me – your problem is the Leader, correct? She is the only thing that keeps you in the Order, but there is no way that you can get rid of her. Anything you try, she will stop you with a command, and in any case you are bound not to harm her by the rules of the Order."
It seemed to me that we were simply going in circles. I had not known the second part, but it made sense, and it only made matters more hopeless than ever. "Precisely." Even as I answered, I could feel myself moving toward him; sooner or later, I was going to have to obey Ilyis's command.
"You can't," he repeated. "I can.."
I stared at him. He had to be joking, and yet for once in his life he seemed to be in earnest. There was a certain desperation in his blue eyes now, and he looked a great deal less impressive without that feathered hat. "Why? What will that gain you?"
"Think about it, Blakesley. Ilyis will never accept me into the Order; I need her gone. The others would never let me get away with it, though, and that's where you come in. I need you to take care of the Seer and the Sword for me once the Leader is dead. And when all that is done, you will give me the power of the Conjurer and you will be free to walk away. I promise you, you'll never have anything to do with the Order of Four again."
To be continued...