Enter the Snowflake's lair... Circulation: 102,975,150 Issue: 203 | 12th day of Hiding, Y7
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Curses, Inside-Out: Part Seven


by schefflera

--------

also by Dreagoddess

Lisha was fast becoming a familiar sight at the Citadel as she and Darigan worked together to map out the twisted spells. The cook had taken to sending up twice as much food on a regular basis, making Lord Darigan wonder if she was trying to encourage him to gain weight on the times Lisha wasn't there.

     Lisha knew she was truly accepted there the first time General Galgarrath, eyes and teeth twinkling equally, threatened to throw her out the window if she didn't go home and get some rest.

     It was fortunate the general wasn't there just then, or he would have been threatening a double defenestration. Darigan and Lisha were both sprawled in their respective chairs, Lisha's eyes blinking very slowly and sleepily, Darigan's head nodding ever slightly. "Are we done yet?" Lisha asked tiredly, convincing at least one eye it needed to stay open to look at Darigan. "When you said there were a lot of spells connected to the Orb, I didn't know you meant this many!"

     "We'd had it for generations," Darigan pointed out, sitting up marginally straighter and peering at a long scroll onto which he had condensed a list of the spells whose inversions they were seeking. "I concede, however, that we may have gotten a bit carried away. Although I probably wouldn't if they were still the right way out." He carefully rolled the length of the list from beginning to end. "But yes, actually, we're done." A humorless grin. "With this stage, that is."

     "Yay." Given that Lisha's eyes had closed again and this was said around a yawn, the word didn't come out with the enthusiasm it implied.

     "Yes. Now to start the hard part," Darigan said blandly, then shook his head. "Well, not right this minute."

     Lisha pried her eyelids open determinedly. "I can start right now if you want to."

     Darigan looked over at her in astonishment. "I hope you're joking."

     "Well... if you think we need to... I can start."

     "Lisha. You're nearly asleep. I can barely see straight after looking through your eyes for the past two hours."

     "I can--" Lisha interrupted herself with a yawn, then finished obstinately, "--wake up."

     "Rushing," Darigan said, fighting off the yawn-by-contagion, "will only slow things down."

     "That doesn't make any sense," Lisha pointed out drowsily.

     "It does. I've an idea what to do now, but it will take some planning. And while there are types of magic that are best performed on the edge of exhaustion, and others that are best performed on or over the edge of sleep, I don't think any of them are applicable here."

     "All right. I just said if you wanted to. I don't want to slow you down."

     "If it weren't for you," Darigan felt compelled to point out, "I wouldn't have known to begin."

     "I don't want to slow you down now," Lisha amended with another yawn, letting her eyes close again.

     "You're not." He reached a long arm over and set it briefly on her shoulder. "You've been very helpful."

     That was putting it mildly. Lisha had flung herself into an exhausting and often unpleasant project with as much urgency as if she and her kin were the ones cursed, and more vigor than would have been possible under those circumstances. She had let him share her magical senses until they'd mapped the entire Citadel. This should have been an acutely uncomfortable process, especially in multiple long sessions, even had they been looking at simple and innocuous magic. Generally speaking, both minds would have tried to wriggle loose, however unintentionally. They had grown used to each other faster than should have been possible, and Lisha's instincts and unstinting determination had been much of the reason.

     She opened her eyes again briefly to smile at him. "I'm glad. I've been trying."

     "I appreciate it."

     "Told you," Lisha murmured, pillowing her head more comfortably on her arms, "it's what I'm here for."

     "...You're here for a lot more than that."

     "Yes. To sleep, apparently." Another yawn. "Comfy chair."

     Darigan eyed the chair skeptically. It was designed for someone taller than Lisha, and if she slept in it with her feet dangling, her legs would be asleep from the knees down for somewhat longer than the rest of her.

     As soon as she was definitely asleep, he picked her up and moved her onto his pillow, which was long enough to serve as a mattress if she curled up, and wrapped both Lisha and pillow in a blanket before setting the ensemble carefully on the floor of the study and going to bed himself.

     She was still asleep when Darigan returned in the morning, prompting a smile as he settled behind his desk again and pulled out the spell scroll. She would likely wake before long, and no doubt be eager to begin again. If he was lucky, he could keep ahead of her.

     His ancestors really had tied an inordinate number of spells to the orb. Had the orb stayed where it belonged, Darigan would still be a very stable empire, and inclined to look like a graceful multicolored cobweb if anyone tried to analyze it magically.

     There was no good description for an inside-out cobweb, but it was definitely a mess. It was a worse one because of what he'd done since.

     Lord Darigan had wondered, far too late, whether his agreements with the Three had perhaps been responsible for much of his land's trouble. He had been right to wonder, but it hadn't worked quite the way he thought.

     The magic they had lent him -- he grimaced, tasting foulness -- had indeed tainted what he'd done with it, and it permeated the stone and the gathered dark clouds. It seemed to be sulking, especially around where he had planted the little Illusen's Orb plant, which was sending out tiny threads of green magic to split cracks in the dirt for new roots.

     Taints and magical signatures could be purged, if with difficulty. More importantly, Darigan had grown certain that the Three had known exactly where the curses lay, invisible to him. Lisha had mentioned thinking the newer magic was aligned in the same way as spells for holding things together. He would have to tell her she'd been right.

     Every new layer of magic, while he'd been under their influence, was pinning the inside-out orb spells more firmly in place, winding around and over them, binding down loose ends.

     Why were there loose ends?

     Darigan shut his eyes and studied his memory of the curses. There were loose ends, curling into angry snarls, where the spells had been attached to the orb when they were cast.

     And they had been unraveling.

     He sighed. They would have been unraveling more if he hadn't kept reinforcing them. At least that might be an opening for their removal -- once he got rid of some of the newer spells, those he had added under the influence of the Three. There were others they'd have to work around....

     ...Or he would. He'd asked far too much of Lisha already. Darigan frowned over the desk at her. She wasn't going to like it if he told her that.

     As if the frown prodded her awake, Lisha stirred. Her head popped up and swiveled around like an owl's, eyes blinking behind her glasses. "I thought I was in a chair."

     "You were," Darigan told her. "It didn't look nearly as comfortable as you seemed to think it was."

     "Huh." Lisha yawned and stretched, then suddenly froze, her eyes widening with almost comical panic. "Jeran! He'll be going crazy!" She hurried to the window to look out, almost expecting to see Meridellian knights charging on Uniback.

     There weren't any. There was a Uni, and there was a Lupe, but they were both quite definitely a deep blackish purple, and the Lupe had leathery wings. "I don't think he's prone to that," Darigan said from behind her. "And Galgarrath seems to have come in and sent him a note. I'm afraid I didn't think of it."

     "Oh. Good." She moved away from the window, though not without one last slightly worried glance. "And if you don't think he can go crazy, you haven't known him long enough."

     "Perhaps not." Jeran was, after all, her brother. "I apologize. I shouldn't have kept you so long."

     "It's okay." She yawned again and tried to look more alert. "Do you want to start now, or do you want me to go home?"

     "I'm still working out what to do next."

     "Then I guess I should go back," she said reluctantly. "...Thank you for letting me stay here last night."

     "Don't thank me." He smiled wryly. "I should think you would have been more comfortable in your own bed, but I was tired myself and didn't fly you down."

     "I slept well here." She grinned. "Morris keeps sneaking things into my bed. It's not very restful."

     "I suppose it wouldn't be."

     "Not very." She stretched again. "Let me know when you're ready to start again."

     "I'm planning, at the moment. Sorting out which of the overlying newer spells can be removed, which I'll have to replace, and which it's probably best just to work around." He eyed her a bit worriedly. "I fear I've been asking too much of you as it is."

     "You haven't," she said quickly. "I volunteered to help, remember?"

     "I know, and I thank you, but it's no excuse--"

     "I said I wanted to help! You're letting me help. What do you need to be excusing anything for?" Lisha's voice was getting louder by the end.

     "You said yourself Jeran would be worried --"

     "He worries too much!"

     "--That I'd kept you here so long. You have been very helpful, Lisha, but that doesn't mean I should abuse your kindness."

     "He'd just be worried at staying the whole night without sending word! He knows that I spend a lot of time up here helping and he doesn't mind, really! Please don't send me away!" Lisha was practically in tears. "I can still help!"

     "Lisha...." Darigan came around the desk, baffled. "What in the world is wrong?"

     "I can still help. There's no reason for you to send me away. Jeran won't mind, I promise."

     "You don't live here," Darigan pointed out, "and I can't think you really want to move."

     "I don't have to live here to keep helping you. You're talking about not letting me help again!"

     Darigan gave her a worried look. "Calm down, please."

     Lisha took a deep breath and sat back down in the chair she'd fallen asleep in the previous night. "I'm calm. I just don't want to quit before we're even finished!"

     "Lisha, I'm grateful for your help. Truly. But you're... still very early in your magical career, and frankly, your power outstrips your knowledge. I realize you prefer to learn by doing, but you need to be careful of those who would use you for that power -- and I would not like to be one of them."

     "It's not using me when I offer to help. I can do this. I've been doing this! Didn't we already have this argument?"

     Darigan sighed. "Making you think the whole thing was your idea is a favorite strategy," he said. "Believe me, I've been on both sides of it before. But that's not the point."

     She huffed and crossed her arms in front of her. "Then what is the point?"

     "That I don't want to overwork you." Darigan folded his own arms, then realized he was looming and pulled his chair around his desk to sit down in it. "And you seem curiously unhappy about this."

     "I told you, you're not overworking me. And you keep saying that you don't need me here at all anymore, not just that you don't want me to work so hard!"

     "I don't recall saying that at all." His voice was very mild.

     "You said you'd been overworking me and want to send me home while you work on everything else!"

     "If I had actually said that," Darigan asked slowly, "why exactly would it be a problem? You knew from the beginning that the solution wasn't entirely predictable. You knew that there would probably be elements you wouldn't be able to participate in. I certainly hope you knew that I didn't intend to harm you in the process."

     "But you're not talking about something I can't participate in because I don't know how or because it would hurt me or the spells or anything! You're talking about not letting me participate because I got tired. I can understand not letting me do it while I'm tired, because that could hurt the spells, but after I'm fine again? You're just being as overprotective as Jeran."

     "Jeran may be right. I'm talking about the possibility that I have been asking too much of you. Getting tired is to be expected, but it is only reasonable up to a certain point. And if you aren't able to recognize that point yet for yourself, other people will have to do it for you."

     "Just because we don't have the same idea of what 'too much' is doesn't mean I'm unreasonable," Lisha pointed out dryly.

     "Doesn't it?" Darigan clapped his hands together and regarded her with an expression of cool interest. "Then please list the five main warning signs of impending magical overexertion and the three symptom categories of actual injury from it, and describe how to tell whether each is temporary or permanent."

     Lisha's eyes narrowed and she snapped, "Being irritating, being condescending, being over-protective, being arrogant, and being a knowitall, and from what I've seen, it looks permanent!"

     Darigan raised an eyebrow, but didn't shout back. "Perhaps you should do more reading."

     "I've been reading, and I've told you I would do more. I'll do whatever you want me to, but you just keep trying to keep me OUT of it even after you've agreed to let me help!"

     Terrifying. She was terrifying. That much power, and no apparent idea of either her own limits or those she ought to set on what others could demand of her. "You keep assuming I'm trying to get rid of you," he said, "when I have said no such thing and am trying to warn you of hazards you don't seem to know. And if you find me as personally objectionable as your comment a moment ago suggested... then why, exactly, do you want to work with me at all?"

     "I only find you objectionable when you're trying to get rid of me. And I want to work with you because -- well, I want to help," she finished lamely.

     "We keep coming back to that," Darigan observed wearily. "Most people, if all they want is to help, don't become quite so frantic at the barest hint that they might, at some point, be finished helping."

     Lisha's eyes got very wide. She shrank back in her chair and said very quietly, "I'm not finished. There's still more I can do."

     "If you're helping with something," he said gently, "the idea is less how much you can do, but how much someone else needs you to do."

     "But..." She swallowed and her voice grew smaller still. "What if no one needs you to do anything?"

     Darigan considered a few different answers, including "that almost never happens" and "you can usually find something" and "then you have to figure out what you need to do," but what he ended up saying was, very gently, "You've been worrying about that, haven't you?"

     "The war's over," Lisha pointed out. "And I'm glad, really, but...my wand mostly...fights. I don't know much other magic. I've been trying to learn, really, but..."

     "You didn't have anyone to tell you the things that would have made the books make sense."

     "That just means I can't learn and I won't ever and no one will need me in Meridell!" she burst out.

     "It means you'll either find a teacher or learn rather slowly with more accidents than usual," Darigan corrected her. "And Meridell seems rather fond of you anyway."

     She shook her head. "It's just because of my wand. They think I'm a sorceress. But I can't -- I don't know all of this!"

     "You are a sorceress, if a rather erratically educated one. You've established yourself as a war heroine already, even if you never do anything else. You're also their Champion's sister and exceptionally good at one of their favorite sports." He paused and gave her a slightly crooked smile. "And I like you, though that's probably more something for your reputation in Meridell to withstand."

     "They're not going to want me around just because I can win at Meriball," Lisha protested, looking away. "And...I'm not a sorceress. Not really. I'm just a girl. If I didn't have my wand..."

     "Which you have not used in any of the magic you've done here over the past week," Darigan said, ending on an expectant note as if waiting for her to finish the sentence.

     "...I haven't been doing much. You have. You were just using my senses."

     "You know better than that. There are spells that can borrow another's senses without requiring the lender's participation. They are not pleasant." They were usually painful. By default they were painful to the target. If the sorcerer casting them cared to spare the target, for the sake of scruples or stealth, they were painful to the caster instead.

     "It was still mostly you."

     "Yes, well, it's my citadel, and I've been doing magic since long before you were born."

     "This is before I was born."

     Darigan sighed. "I suppose that probably explains why you're inclined to feel out of place."

     "I don't feel out of place. I feel..." Her breath hitched and she closed her eyes. "I'm a fraud. Everyone thinks I'm a...sorceress, but it's just my wand, and they don't need me anyway now, and I thought if I could do this..." She stopped and took several deep breaths to calm herself, though her chin was trembling when she said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't use your problems for... I'll go now. I'm sorry I interfered."

     Lisha climbed off her chair, eyes still tightly shut, and stumbled toward the door.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Curses, Inside-Out: Part One
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Two
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Three
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Four
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Five
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Six



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