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Duplicity: Part Five


by likelife96

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      Each individual’s magical energy was as a river, constantly ebbing and flowing through its owner as it was expended and renewed. The maximum amount of energy anyone could have was fixed at a certain amount, and though there was no real mathematical quantification of it, every trained sorcerer intuitively knew the “correct” value it should have been at.

      A miniscule, vacuous bubble in Lisha’s magical energy floated in and out of her attention as she flipped though some old notes on auras. Usually, a small vacuum in her energy was not a huge deal. However, she hadn’t used any spells in the past few days, and whatever amount of energy she used that long ago should have been renewed by now.

      When she went over the last few times she’d used a bit of magic, Lisha could not identify a clear cause of this lapse in her energy. The only thing she could think of was her last conversation with Jeran. If the aura around his ring wasn’t just a trick of the eye, its magic must have had something to do with it. She couldn’t determine whether that was the case unless she could identify the aura.

      Her “research,” however, proved useless. No encyclopedia or theoretical book even acknowledged the existence of a transparent, distorted aura, and she could not think of any possible magical combinations that could have resulted in one. Her old notes probably would not help her overmuch.

      Sighing, she shut her notebook and plopped it on the ledge of the high stained-glass window towering behind her. It depicted the last battle of the first Meridell-Darigan War. A crazed Lord Darigan raised the Orb of Prosperity above him as rays of magic crashed upon his opponents, a team consisting of Meridellians and Darigans alike.

      Jeran, Lisha, her friends, and various knights framed the bottom-left half of the composition. Galgarroth, Vex, and a few other Darigan generals framed the other half. General Kass, as he was known then, used to be present in the depiction, but was removed after the second war.

      The old throne room’s gigantic doors creaked open. A pair of guards came inside. With them was a blue Aisha donning the robes of a Brightvalian scholar, whose head was held up high even as she curtsied to bid them farewell.

      Lisha walked up to her and waved. “Hey! Miss Lissandre!”

      “Lisha Borodere?” Lissandre lost her arrogant composure as soon as she spluttered that out, if only for a few moments. “It’s—it’s quite the coincidence to see you here.”

      Yes, “coincidence,” if you counted having the captain of the guard tell you when and where she was going to be very coincidental. “Not a lot of people come here, which makes it a good place to study, since it’s usually pretty quiet. Great to see you again, though.”

      “A bit . . . dreary, though, isn’t it?” said Lissandre.

      Darkness blanketed the majority of the hall. Only thin, colorful streams of light made it through the windows and onto the main, carpeted path leading to the throne. A cold, stale odor stayed about.

      “It is. I’m surprised you’d be here.”

      “Oh, I’m just waiting on the captain of the guard, that Danner guy. Really quite a character. Is he a friend of yours?”

      “He’s more Jeran’s friend, so I know him by association,” replied Lisha. “He can’t be any stranger than the Darigan captain of the guard, though, and you seem to know him somewhat well.”

      “True, Gvoran’s strange, but how strange he is doesn’t quite reflect on me. The Brightvalian captain, Brynn, is relatively normal by comparison, and, despite her age, is better at her job than any Meridellian could be.”

      Lissandre was a walking stereotype of a Brightvalian. “I’m sure she’s really amazing. Say, how is your research going?”

      “Our research is going as expected,” said Lissandre, “which is to say, very time-consuming and grueling. Lots of trials, number crunching, and writing. I’m stuck with all the boring bits because I’m the youngest.”

      “No university students to push it off to?”

      “Not many, no. At any rate, I don’t really mind that much. It wasn’t like most of my previous research was ground-breakingly interesting to most people. Up until now, I mostly researched the practical application of magic to agriculture. I was probably the best in the field.”

      Agriculture. That explained why she seemingly had some connections to the citadel. Up there, they couldn’t produce much in the way of food on their thin, ashen soil. It wasn’t a huge leap in logic to think Darigan might have worked with outside sources in search of a solution to this problem.

      “That sounds fun,” said Lisha, “but important nonetheless. That sort of research could end up helping a lot of people.”

      Lissandre answered with a faint “yes,” and Lisha figured now was her chance to bring up the night of the attempted assassination. “You know, this place was really bustling during the ball.”

      “It was, it’s just too bad that the ball ended in a pretty . . . interesting way, don’t you think?”

      “Interesting indeed.” Lisha chuckled. “You know, it could have turned out a lot worse if you weren’t there to do something about it.”

      “You saw that, didn’t you?” Lissandre’s perpetual smile weakened considerably.

      “Yes,” said Lisha. “I’m taking it you didn’t want or expect anybody to notice, and I respect that, I really do, but it just felt sort of wrong to just leave you without at least a thank you.”

      “No need to thank or recognize me. It’s what anyone would have done, if that anyone was the kindest, most intelligent, and most powerful sorceress in Brightvale and was absolutely amazing at everything she did.”

      “And I’m to take it that you’re the kindest, smartest, and most powerful sorceress in all of Brightvale, then? My, my, how humble.”

      “It’s not arrogance if it’s true. I’m just the best,” replied Lissandre. “Seriously, there’s no need to thank me. I’m happy enough with the knowledge I did some good, really.”

      Considering how boastful Lissandre was, it struck Lisha as very odd that she seemingly didn’t want recognition. She could easily picture Lissandre basking in the glory of saving Prince Rafael the prince-regent of Meridell, all while passively-aggressively affirming Brightvale’s superiority at every turn.

      “Well, I hope you’d bother to accept my recognition, then, even if I’m a filthy Meridellian.” At this, Lissandre rolled in her lips in a vain attempt to prevent a smile. “I just wanted to thank you for dispatching the assassins, even if you didn’t really mean anything with it. You potentially saved many people, and definitely saved my brother’s life. He means a lot to me, and, well, it’s because of you I’m not mourning his death.”

      Lissandre widened her eyes. All haughtiness and hardness vanished from her face. She opened her mouth for a good minute before finally speaking. “I think, when you’re talking about a character like Jeran, all the times he must have put himself in danger, that there are many who have prevented him from suffering worse fates.

      “I guess you could cite Psellia saving him from the fall, but there are perhaps less glorious examples. Jeran used to be a rank knight before becoming the champion of Meridell, for example. It is hard to imagine there might have been a few times when quick thinking from a comrade might have averted disaster. I don’t think my action was anything special.”

      “Even if it is nothing special, it is still worthy of expressed gratitude, is it not? I thanked Psellia, I certainly thanked Sir Atcon and Danner when they saved him. If I knew anyone else who potentially saved Jeran’s life, I’d do the same.”

      Wrapping her curls around a finger, Lissandre nodded. “Perhaps you are right. Lisha, I appreciate you taking the time to do this.” She now regained control of her composure. “Speaking of which, this chance meeting wasn’t very coincidental, was it?”

      “No. I told Danner about what you did, and he wanted to gain as much information about the assassination attempt as possible. He told me you’d be here.”

      “Who exactly did you tell? How many people?”

      First, Lissandre didn’t want much recognition. Then, she downplayed her what she did. And now . . . now it seemed she was actually actively trying to hide it from others. This clearly went beyond simple humility, but if not humility, what was it? Lissandre, to Lisha’s knowledge, hadn’t done anything wrong. Was she afraid of someone else finding out the extent of her magical ability?

      She couldn’t help but shake off this odd feeling she’d known Lissandre long before they’d met at the ball, even as she was certain she’d never even seen her before then.

      “Two. Jeran and Danner,” Lisha replied. “Though I don’t think Jeran really counts all that much. I doubt he knows it was specifically you who saved him, just a very powerful Brightvalian sorceress.”

      “Just those two?”

      “Yeah, just them. Danner’s pretty good at keeping secrets.”

      “I was just wondering,” said Lissandre. “That’s all, that’s all. Now I’m actually in suspense about what Danner’ll harangue me about. Should be fun explaining to him the intricacies of time magic.”

      “I don’t think it’s fun explaining to anyone the intricacies of time magic, but I think Danner should be easier than most,” replied Lisha. She found herself frowning slightly. Lissandre almost acted afraid back there. “Sorry if I inconvenienced you.”

      “Me? Oh, not at all. I’m timely and efficient in all my work, a little banter with Danner will not hamper me. Besides, if my work does get overwhelming because these few hours, I’ll know to induct you into our research group and make you do some grunt work.”

      “It’d be some valuable experience. I wouldn’t mind.” Lisha shrugged. Then she realized that apparently, she could still help with the research. “Wait, can I assist this research?”

      “Do you want to?”

      “It’d be more worthwhile than anything I’m doing right now, even just cramping my wrists writing down data. Time rifts are nearer to my heart than most would realize, and I’ve been obsessed with them for a long time.”

      “In that case, I’m telling you it’s possible,” said Lissandre, stroking her chin, “if one of the researchers vouches for you. That’d be unlikely seeing as you’re not that far into advanced studies, but I suppose we could use another hand.”

      “That’s a ‘maybe,’ then,” said Lisha.

      “Not exactly.” Lissandre smiled. “Tell you what, I’ll recommend you after Danner’s done with me. You can stop by the royal library at the end of the week to see if we can use you.”

      This was seriously happening. Lisha might have been able to help with research on time rifts and their effects on inter-world stability. She’d always wanted to be involved in time research, but had never been able to convince the old geezers at Brightvale University she was capable of it. But if she got in with this team, well, she could certainly show them they were wrong.

      She bowed. “Thank you!”

      “It is no trouble,” said Lissandre, her voice trailing off. “You’re a bright Aisha. My colleagues will surely approve of you.”

***

      “The Duke of Brightden, huh?” said Jeran, fiddling with a yellow pin on his map. “I highly doubt Garrington would be so bold.”

      “It’s a possibility,” replied Danner.

      The lead Danner got from “interrogating” Prince Rafael did actually bear a lot of fruit. Gali did indeed hail from the Fairbassun merchant family. Long ago, the Fairbassuns were among the most powerful family in all of Meridell with strong kin ties to the royal family, but misfortune after misfortune left the family with almost nothing but their name.

      Gali himself was a bit of a black Baabaa, or so Danner had gathered from his immediate relatives. He used to have bright prospects in his future, but it all changed when he stole an heirloom, from the duke. Rather than risk the rather harsh punishment the duke insisted on meting out to his family’s wealth, however, he chose to be exiled from Meridell.

      Danner managed to track down a few seemingly innocuous correspondences from a high-ranking knight to Gali. Within them were cyphered promises of forgiveness for the Fairbassuns should Gali help carry out an assassination. Of course, the only one qualified to forgive the debts of Gali’s family was either the king or Duke Garrington. None of this was necessarily damning evidence, but, well, it didn’t look so good for the duke.

      “The assassins still refuse to speak?”

      “Correct,” replied Danner. “Not even the Ixi spoke when I confronted him about it.”

      The silence was disconcerting. Danner had fully expected the assassins to be fanatics or discontents, but they tended to voice what—or who—had caused them to attempt such an act.

      “So you’re at a dry well when it comes to new information, then,” said Jeran.

      “Well, I do hope to have a word with a Brightvalian sorceress who attended the ball.” Danner debated telling Jeran who exactly she was or what she did, but he promised Lisha not to say a word. “She should be able to clear up a few things, but I don’t think she’ll offer much more.”

      “A roundabout ‘yes,’ I see,” said Jeran. He pulled out the yellow pin stuck in the middle of Brightden and replaced it with a red one. “It’d be prudent to send a few guys to Brightden and fetch Duke Garrington, just as a bit of a safety net.”

      “Too bad you can’t do that.” It was against Meridellian common law for the monarch, or anyone in their position, to arrest higher nobles without proper reason.

      “What a shame.” Jeran stood up and walked to one of the windows, looking out into the rolling hills and marches that reverberated from the nearby city. He stared for a while until a slight smile crept up on his face. “Though technically, I can do that. I have the full capability to arrest him.”

      “You know what I meant.” Danner usually liked dumb, nitpicky jokes, but now was not the time. Lissandre wouldn’t keep waiting for him forever. He tapped his foot quickly on the ground, and when Jeran didn’t respond, he groaned. “You shouldn’t do that. Happy?”

      Jeran turned to fully face Danner. “As a matter of fact, I am. You can go now. Wouldn’t want to hold you up.”

      “Trust me, you’re not nearly the nuisance to me as I am to you,” said Danner as he exited. “I’ll annoy you later, I promise.”

      “I’m holding you to that!” yelled Jeran. The door closed shut behind his friend, leaving him with the tedious business of signing off on various kingdom-wide policies and laws that needed to be renewed. He mindlessly scanned through document after document, swiping his quill through the paper every once in a while.

      Garrington was one of the more influential men in Meridell, someone whose good side you generally wanted to be on, even if you had the power of a king, a point he’d made sure to drive home. Jeran, however, was disinterested in having to be on anyone’s good side. He’d been smiling and groveling the entire time, and he knew now that was a weak and cowardly approach.

      Now, making it so that others wanted to be on your good side, well, that tune sounded a lot sweeter. If he could get Garrington to appear deferential to him, it would be quite the accomplishment, and what better way was there to bring him into line if not with some dirt? Whether or not Garrington was truly guilty of setting up the assassination didn’t matter to this end, not as long as Jeran could take advantage of legitimate suspicion.

      Of course, he would have to forestall the story just long enough once it got out. For now, it looked like he had a few orders to issue.

      But don’t you want to seek vengeance on the once truly responsible for the assassination? For making an attempt on your sister’s life? a faint, harsh voice came from behind him. They’ll still be out there, plotting your demise.

      Jeran turned to face the speaker. Three cloaked specters stood before him: Ambition, Greed, and Revenge. The former two, he noticed, appeared much less transparent than they did before, almost as though they had gained some sort of substance. Revenge was still merely an outline in the air.

      “Don’t worry, that will come with time,” he said. “I have a few ideas as to who would have done it, but there’s more to gain by waiting.”

      Jeran’s golden ring warmed around his finger. That gain would certainly be larger with its power.

      Ideas aren’t enough, hissed Revenge.

      “Don’t worry, I plan to find out exactly who did it, and when I do, they will pay for it. But not now. As they say, the patient hunter catches his prey.”

      You had better be right, Jeran. We don’t take failure lightly.

      Failure. That familiar shadow made Jeran grit his teeth. No, he would not fail at anything ever again. He would neither constrain himself nor act as rashly as the heated anger of Revenge compelled him to.

      “I am right. Vengeance is best served cold.”

      He did not see Revenge’s smile grow ever so slightly clearer.

      To be continued…

 
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Other Episodes


» Duplicity: Part One
» Duplicity: Part Two
» Duplicity: Part Three
» Duplicity: Part Four
» Duplicity: Part Six



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