Order of Four: Part Twelve
It was a simple plan, really. Perhaps too simple. But as Carlisle had so eloquently pointed out, I had nothing left to lose. He wanted his place in the Order; I never wanted to think about it again; and between the two of us we just might have a chance.
"Here he is," I said belligerently, shoving Lance Carlisle in front of me and staring up into Ilyis's blank dark eyes. "And here is the diamond piece."
I had thought myself almost indifferent, but standing before her I found that I was terribly afraid she would somehow guess, somehow think to ask the question – that in some way the little bright sliver of hope would shine through my eyes. But she did not even answer me. Instead, she regarded the Usul for a moment with no discernible emotion, and then she turned to me. "Open a portal. Take us back to the Diamond."
This I did. The nighttime breeze and the open fields were suddenly gone, replaced by the warm enclosed air and the strange silver glow of the Order's cavern. The Sword had one wary hand on Carlisle's shoulder, and as my gaze passed over his I was almost certain that I saw a trace of suspicion in his fiery eyes. I looked away and said nothing. Carlisle was in his place, that was what mattered: his place by Ilyis's side. And if he was quick enough, if and only if he was quick enough...
Maybe this was how my father had done it. It seemed so impossible to defy the Order; and yet he had done it, and now I had too. Everything rested on the slender dagger hidden beneath Lance Carlisle's coat. Because he had hit on the truth of it after all – I could not kill the Leader, but he could. Once Ilyis was out of the way, I was confident that I could deal with the other two; even the Sword was no true match for the Conjurer's powers.
Carlisle was in the perfect position now, standing just to the Leader's left. I tensed in anticipation, holding my breath.
"Sword!" Ilyis's sharp voice rang out through the cavern. "I think we are done with Mr. Carlisle. Nobody will ever find him here. Take off his head."
The magma Lupe stepped forward, slowly and deliberately, holding the flaming sword with such easy grace that it might have been made of cardboard. Now, I thought. Now is the time. Do it, Carlisle.
But instead the Usul cried out, "Wait!"
Ilyis regarded him with her dark blank eyes, and he continued. "I had Blakesley bring me here for one reason and one reason only. In order to gain his trust, I told him that I had a plan to kill you and overthrow the rest of the Order, but in truth, I wish to join your ranks. Kill the traitor over there – take me as your Conjurer instead." He offered out the knife to her, bending to one knee in an elegant gesture of submission.
"You filthy double-crosser," I said, and I hurled myself at him.
"Stay where you are." The Leader's calm command hit me like a slap, and I found myself frozen, unable to move any closer. It was the only thought she spared for me; instead she turned back to Carlisle. "Why should you wish to join us?"
"Because, my Leader, I want to restore the diamond's power and restore Neopia's peace."
"You are selfish, you mean, and power-hungry. You wish to rule over Neopia." For just a moment, I thought she would kill him then and there, ordering the Sword to bring her his head.
But Carlisle did not deny it, and Ilyis made no move. "Perhaps so," he admitted. "But why should I serve you any less well because of it?"
She considered him for a long moment. I struggled furiously to move forward, but it was as though the air itself held me back. They would kill me, I knew it – they would take Carlisle as their Conjurer and that would be the end of everything.
But I could not accept that. I had not lived sixteen years to be finished off here and now, having accomplished nothing. A sudden, wild plan came into my head, and I began to speak, quietly at first, gaining strength as I went on. "I, Felix Blakesley, by the power of the Order and the Diamond from which it is drawn, do hereby bequeath my role as Conjurer to Lance Carlisle."
Instantly I could move freely again. It was at Ilyis that I lunged now, scrabbling for the dagger she held. Somehow in my desperate strength I caught its handle and I pulled it sharply back, and then I stabbed her. Both of us tumbled to the ground as she struggled her last.
A flaming sword came down at my head, so fast that I could hear it whistle through the air, and I resigned myself to death.
But the blow did not come. I sat there crouched in front of Ilyis, waiting to die, with my eyes closed. Then, hardly daring to believe it, I turned my head and looked up.
The sword was there, not two inches from my face, but it was frozen still. The Lupe's burning eyes stared straight at me, and yet he did not move either. I looked over at Carlisle. The Usul was disheveled, shaking, clearly overstrained with the effort of holding the Sword and the Seer where they stood. Of all the unbelievable things that had happened to me today, the most unbelievable of all was that Lance Carlisle had saved me.
There was no time to think about this, however, nor even any time to suspect a trap. The sword was beginning to move, just a little, sliding by millimeters toward my face. I could see that the spells in the ensorcelled steel were beginning to erode whatever Carlisle had done to freeze them, and we did not have long. "Destroy the diamond," I told him. "Take it apart. You can feel how – the cracks where it's been put together. Do it."
Still he did not. He stood there, conflicted, clearly unsure what path to take. I could almost see the ambition in his eyes, the unwillingness to destroy all hope of his rule over Neopia. "They will kill us both if you don't," I told him desperately. I knew it was true, and he clearly knew it too – it was why he had chosen to stop the Sword and save my life. Now, whatever he did, it would look as though he had after all plotted with me to kill the Leader. "Destroy the diamond, Carlisle. Destroy it or I swear on my mother's life and death I will destroy you."
And yet Lance Carlisle did not move. I slipped under the flaming sword, and taking hold of the cold, shadowy hilt, I wrenched it free from the Lupe's hands. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I could feel the Lupe fighting me, and Carlisle's magic, and the sword itself. But in the end I did it. As I walked over to the diamond I was forced to throw up a hand against its blinding, belligerent glow; I could tell that it knew what I was going to do.
It couldn't stop me, though. I raised the flaming sword high above my head – and brought it down with all my strength.
The diamond exploded into a thousand pieces.
I was thrown back by the force of it, and it was all I could do to shield my face from the razor-sharp flying shards. The blast seemed to go on for minutes, though perhaps it was only seconds, and the silver light howled and swirled around the cavern. I could feel the wind tearing at me, seeking to drain the very life from my body. But finally it was over, and I looked up.
Carlisle had had the sense to get down as well; he seemed unharmed. The Sword and the Seer, frozen in their places, had not been able to move. I could see where shards had pierced them both. One had gone through the Sword's throat, another through the Seer's heart. I took a moment to look at the old Hissi and wonder how he had ended up here, and why he had believed so ardently in the Order's cause. In the end, I supposed it didn't matter. All the same, it was sad to think that he had died for the Order of Four, and that I had caused his death.
I picked up the sword, which flamed no longer, and threw it at Carlisle's feet. "Here you go. Take all that's left of the Order." As I stood over him, I could see the fear in his eyes. He was nothing but a coward after all, sly and manipulative, with no strength to live up to his threats. I wondered how I could ever have found him intimidating. "And now, goodbye."
With that I walked away, entering the tunnel that would take me to the surface.
It was some years later on a dark, rainy day that I found myself back in Neovia. I had wandered here and there, seeing the sights of Neopia, trying to decide what I meant to do next. Now I was in the old teashop I had sat in so many times with my mother. Even to this day I could see her before me, with her faded blue eyes and her old green dress. She had loved me so much, I knew that. I wished I could tell her that I understood – that I bore her no resentment for everything that had taken place.
And my father... I wasn't sure how I felt about him, or what I might have said to him if I'd ever had the chance to meet him. He had destroyed my mother's life, and in many ways, he had destroyed mine too. But it was hard to hate someone I'd never met, and someone whom my mother had loved perhaps even as much as she had loved me.
The owner of the teashop came over to take my order. She was a plump green Skeith, and I remembered her well; she looked exactly the same. I doubted that she would be able to say the same for me. Indeed, she did not recognize me immediately. It was only after writing down my request for a cup of tea with milk and sugar that she exclaimed aloud and nearly dropped her pen. "Why, if it isn't Master Felix! Or Mr. Felix, I should say now. My, but you've grown! Such a handsome lad you are now. So like your father, too."
I was taken aback by this. "You knew my father?"
"Oh yes, well that is..." She looked guilty. "I wasn't supposed to mention it to anybody. They came here once, him and your mother, when they were just a little older than you are now. It was before you were born. Told me they were going to Neopia Central, and that I should never tell anybody I saw them. I never did either, not until this day. But I suppose it can't do any harm now after all these years."
"No," I said reflectively. "No, I suppose not."
"Well, what are you going to do with yourself now? Stay in Neovia?"
"I don't know." I didn't. Sometimes I felt as though there was nothing left for me to do. "But tell me, Mrs. Haggerty... what was he like? My father?"
"Well, he looked just like you. You don't favor your sweet mother at all, bless her soul. And he had a bit of your way of speaking too, although there's a difference... I can't quite say what it is."
I finished my tea and noticed that it had begun to rain outside. "Well, thank you, Mrs. Haggerty. It was good to see you again."
"And the same to you, Mr. Johnson."
I paused in the doorway and turned back for a moment. "Blakesley. My name is Blakesley."