Enter the Snowflake's lair... Circulation: 100,597,592 Issue: 199 | 14th day of Swimming, Y7
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Curses, Inside-Out: Part Three


by schefflera

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also by Dreagoddess

Lisha followed obediently, but Jeran left them to join Galgarrath in sweeping the Citadel to check for injuries and damages. Lisha winced at the thought of people being hurt for her silly mistake. "Are you sure I should try this again?" she asked quietly as they entered Darigan's study.

     "I'll show you the correct form of the spell for identifying enchantments on a person. And perhaps over a large area of land. It would be useful to find out whether you adapted the principle to perform something similar to that one... or not."

     "Well, if it's not supposed to shake the Citadel, I probably did it wrong."

     "There are some spells on the Citadel intended for concealment, but that isn't how they're supposed to work, either," Darigan said wryly. "I want to know what caused the shaking, but I also want to know how your spell was focused. If you somehow performed the narrow-focus spell at a long range, some of your results could be mirages."

     He paced along his bookshelf and pulled down a tome that was more than half Lisha's height, laying it on his desk with a thud. "If you instinctively adjusted it and saw accurately... then I need to know what you saw."

     She took a deep breath. "All right. Show me what to do."

     "Then shut your eyes," said Darigan, "and watch me carefully."

     The oddity of the instruction almost made Lisha smile, but she did know what he meant: concentrate on the feel of the magic as he cast it on her. It sort of rippled, and the balance of the categories of magic was different. "A living Neopet," Darigan murmured, "practically reeks, magically speaking, of earth, water, and air. Sometimes fire. You don't want to be overwhelmed by your own spell's information, or cause damage."

     "But how do you keep it from doing that?"

     "Be gentle. Especially in this variation, this is a spell for finesse more than power, though you do need a certain threshold. Don't worry," he added kindly. "I'm fairly durable."

     Lisha nodded, bit her lip, and tried to copy the spell as Darigan had done it.

     She opened her eyes to see him rock back on his heels and nearly fall. "I'm sorry! Did I not do it right?"

     Darigan spread his wings to recover his balance. "I think," he said, "you might be trying a bit too hard."

     "I just...wanted to make sure it worked."

     "Trust yourself," Darigan said gently. "You can do the magic, there's no doubt of that. You're well beyond the stage where you have to put everything into each spell to make it work at all -- even each new spell. Now you need to learn to gauge your own strength."

     "Doesn't feel like I'm beyond anything," Lisha muttered, but she took a deep breath and tried again.

     Darigan had braced himself this time, but the impact was less -- but Lisha was checking to see if she'd hit him too hard, and couldn't quite concentrate on the results this time either.

     "Once more... think of it as feeling, more than as casting." He reached over, took her hand, and set it on the book. "Run your fingers across the cover -- if you're feeling for the texture, you don't press with all your strength."

     "Ohhh..." Lisha said softly. "I think..." She shut her eyes and felt the cover a bit more, then nodded to herself and cast the spell again.

     When she opened her eyes to the magic, Darigan glowed.

     "Well?"

     "Er," said Lisha.

     Darigan blinked at her through the glow he probably couldn't see. "That sounds like cause for concern."

     "Are you supposed to...glow?"

     "If you're referring to the result of light magic reflecting off dark... not much. I have used far more dark magic and far more of it for ill than I could wish, but I don't think I should be extensively contaminated." He paused. Lisha swallowed. Darigan grimaced. "I take it I am."

     "Well...I could just be seeing it wrong. But there's an awful lot of it, and it's kind of fuzzy, just like I saw earlier. It makes my eyes itch."

     She could see him tense. "...Can you identify any specific spell-forms in it?"

     "It's nothing I recognize." Lisha frowned at it thoughtfully. "There's more of the inside-out healing spell I saw earlier."

     "...Not just dark, then."

     "No. It's all of them. That's just most of it."

     Darigan sighed and leaned on the desk. "You should probably stop for now. If you can remember any shapes you do see, even ones you don't recognize, please try. We may be able to identify them later."

     "I can try to draw them?" Lisha suggested as she stopped the spell. She pulled off her glasses and scrubbed fiercely at her eyes to make them stop itching. "I'm not very good, but you might be able to recognize it."

     "That could work. The shapes don't always translate very well, but it's certainly worth a try. And the book," he added, running his own hand over it, "is of the spells that are supposed to be on the Citadel."

     "ALL of it? That's a lot of spells!"

     "Well, not every individual enchanted object, but the spells on the Citadel itself, and on structures inside it." Darigan smiled. "It's still quite a few."

     "Do they fill the entire book?"

     "I think I have about a dozen pages left." He turned the book over and opened it to check. "Thirteen."

      "...Wow. How did you learn so many spells?"

     "I didn't cast all of them. The first third are from before I was born. But the books are much easier to read once you've been partly trained -- and I did invent or modify some."

     Lisha looked at the book in awe. "What sorts of spells are they? The only one I knew of was the one to make it float."

     "The support spells are only one set -- if a fairly complicated one. Lifting it out of the ground was something of a trick...." Darigan stopped and passed a hand over his eyes. "I'm... not sure I could do that again. There are others for propulsion, steering... making sure it holds together... and others laced through more specific structures."

     He ran a long finger lightly over the last page with writing; it didn't look entirely complete. "These are plans for renewing the enchantments on the heating conduits. There's molten rock in the center -- carefully sealed -- that we use for its heat; we don't get that much sun."

     "But those all have to do with the Citadel being...well, flying. What kind of spells would've been put on it before you were even born?"

     "Oh. Those." Darigan carefully turned a large sheaf of pages, back to near the beginning. "There have been sorcerers in my family for a long time. All the oldest walls are enchanted against attack -- if we'd had any sense, the orb would have been kept within those." He said it almost without rancor. "A few pages onward, here, and most of these were tied into the orb itself."

     "Oh." Lisha stared at the pages for a while, trying to make sense of the arcane markings. "What kinds of spells would be tied into the orb?"

     Darigan sighed. "Agricultural, structural... the crops were timed by it, and the walls..." He paused and looked up and around. "Well, you can see the walls."

     Lisha bit her lip and very, very carefully extended just a little power to test the magic of the walls. She could see. The magic was very old, very extensive...and just as twisted as what had been surrounding Darigan. "Um...it's twisted too. It's not supposed to be?"

     Darigan blinked at her. "...What is?"

     "The walls. The magic on them."

     He eyed them dubiously. "I tried to shore them up a few times...."

     "There's...more of the fuzzy darkness on them." She sighed in frustration. "I wish I could describe it better!"

     "I know that there is still dark magic in them," Darigan said slowly, "and that the spells I used to reinforce them would have that in the signature. 'Fuzziness' is often a sign of the dominant magic of whoever cast the spell. But twisted?"

     "Like what I saw earlier. All of the spells are... kind of twisted. And I'm not far away this time, so that can't be it."

     "This... twisting... is that how you'd describe the inside-out healing spell?"

     "Yes, exactly! It's not how it's supposed to be."

     "All the categories?" Darigan asked. "Not just the darkness?"

     Lisha squinted even more than usual. "All of them. All really, really old. I don't know exactly how I can tell that, but I think I can. Older -- there's some fuzzy darkness that isn't as old, and -- it looks bad, but the rest looks wrong. Even though I'm not sure what it's supposed to be doing. Some of it looks like it's trying to pull the wall down."

     "Actively?"

     "...Yeah." Lisha stopped and rubbed her eyes again. "Ow. Lord Darigan?" She looked up at him nervously. "You really can't see it?"

      Darigan shook his head. "Nothing like what you're describing." He studied the walls again. "And that troubles me greatly."

     "I don't know why I would see it and not you! I'd think I was making it up if I thought I could imagine something like this."

      "I don't believe you're making it up." Darigan settled into his chair, still staring at the walls as if what Lisha was seeing might suddenly become visible to him. "But I need to find out what it is. I think Galgarrath may have it right -- perhaps I was mistaken in thinking the curses had run their course...."

     "And if the curses were because of the orb, then everything the orb was connected to would be affected, right? And with all those spells tied into it..." Lisha looked away for a moment in thought, then frowned and leaned forward. "What did happen when the orb was taken away? To all of those other spells, I mean."

     "They vanished. Torn up by the roots, so to speak."

     "And all of your crops and everything were tied into it?" Lisha looked appalled. "No wonder you hurt a lot more than Meridell when we lost the orb!"

     Darigan's eyes flashed briefly in annoyance at that, but he controlled himself. "Yes," he allowed shortly after a moment. "We were... too dependent on it to have guarded it so ill."

     There really wasn't a great deal Lisha could say to that. Or at least not politely. She offered instead, "Maybe I could try drawing out the spell so you can see where it's twisted?"

     "That would be kind of you." Darigan smoothed out the page his hand had been resting on. "I'll bring you a slate, if you don't object; it's generally taken several drafts before I felt prepared to put one into the book."

     "Thank you. It's just to show you, anyway, not to put into your book." She sighed again. "I hope you recognize it."

     "Strictly speaking, if it's a spell on the Citadel, it should be in the book. Although it sounds rather as if it would be preferable to get rid of it." He pulled a very smooth slab of dark stone out of a cabinet and shut the book to make room for it on the desk, then offered her a rainbow of thin chalks that were (when Lisha wasn't looking at the magic) the brightest thing in the room.

     She swallowed and picked up a pale purple one. "Here goes...."

     Lisha was fairly sure that Darigan was trying not to hover over her shoulder, but he kept going to look out the window, pacing along the bookshelves and frowning at them, and inevitably stopping to peek at what she was drawing. It was remarkably nervewracking, and she found it a great relief when he settled into an extra chair (although this made her aware that she had absent-mindedly climbed into his and was now kneeling on it to reach a comfortable height relative to the desk) and started frowning into his book instead.

     It was really quite a large slate. She began at the top with what she was seeing in the walls, which was relatively small but kept repeating, then moved on to the inside-out healing spell that was vaguely nauseous just to look at. She startled Lord Darigan once by asking for the wide-area version of the diagnostic spell; he showed her and then sat down again, watching and looking very troubled, as she began drawing in green. He didn't have to tell her that he couldn't see what she did.

     At least she hadn't shaken the Citadel again.

     Finally, eyes aching, she sat up and tried to rub the cramps out of her fingers. "That's -- well, not all of them, but there's the one in white, trying to pull the walls down. At least, I think it is. It looked kind of like the shape for casting a holding-together spell, but bigger, and I tried to draw it backwards since you said it would be reversed. Then there's the one that comes back looking like a healing spell in fire -- I tried to draw it the other way around, but it made me dizzy. And this green one --"

     "You've drawn that one the way you saw it, too, haven't you." Darigan's voice sounded strangely hollow.

     Lisha looked up at him worriedly. "Yes... but I saw it reflected in air, so it really is earth --"

     "I recognize that one." He opened the book again, perhaps a fifth of the way from the beginning, and showed her the page. In gleaming green ink was a casting diagram, not the inside-out reflection shown by the diagnostic spell but the shape of the original spell itself. The diagram was more detailed than Lisha's, and neater, but they were very similar. "This was the framework for keeping the soil soft and fertile, essentially. It was drawn from the natural shape of the orb's earth magic and worked into all the fields." He lightly traced the one section that differed distinctly on the page and the slate -- smooth but intricate curlicues in the book, a snarl Lisha hadn't been able to reproduce properly in the new one. "This is where it was bound into the orb. I thought those spells had been uprooted."

     "But they're still there, only...." Lisha trailed off, not quite questioning.

     Darigan sank back into the second chair, elbows on the desk, and dropped his head into his hands. "Only inverted, perhaps every last one of them, into a curse. And lent extra power by whatever remained of the orb's own."

To be continued...

 
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» Curses, Inside-Out: Part One
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Two



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