With Many Faces: Part Four
I can't tell you how I escaped from the wizard, because I don't remember doing it. What I can tell you is this: I used the Time Box to get back, I still had the travel watch, and I caused the curse.
I caused the curse.
Those four words resounded in my head, clogging it and draining my other thoughts. No matter how many times Marlene came in, asking me what was wrong and offering comfort and food, I remained unresponsive. Speechless. I had nothing to say to her. She was the only person I could rely on, and I couldn't even tell her what I did. Marlene would turn on me in an instant if she knew.
For days, I rejected the food and the offer of blind forgiveness. It was too much to handle. The entire population of the kingdom, locked up in the dungeon. And it was my fault their minds were deteriorating rapidly.
Hopelessly, I sought a way to ease my conscience. I couldn't go back and prevent the curse: though if I went back and stopped the Blumaroo before she made her move, I might have been able to...
Before I could finish the thought, I stopped myself. Dealing with time was too messy. I already made it this bad, and I couldn't risk worsening the situation somehow.
The next time Marlene entered my room with a bowl of soup, I accepted. She sat by my side as I drank it, then waited politely for me to explain what happened. I'm sorry, Marl, but I can't tell you that.
"I was thinking," I said, "that I should go back in time and monitor the King, during his last few weeks. Help him ease the kingdom into its current state, instead of suddenly throwing everyone in the dungeon. I think maybe it will make a difference to morale. I want him to face everyone valiantly during those last few days."
Marlene raised her brow, but to her credit, she didn't ask about what had left me in bed for five days. "I'd like to come with you."
"That's impossible, and also I can come back in literally a few minutes. Even if I spend weeks there. You won't even know I was gone."
"You've been doing all the work," she said. "I want to help, too. We're a team, Trenn. Teaming up to save the kingdom. If we don't work together, then it's not much of a team."
I wished she wasn't right, but it seemed like all the wrong people were right these days.
"How do we both get there?" I considered suggesting my travel watch, but I didn't want her to know I had it. I might actually need it in an emergency again.
"You go first, then you give the Box to someone else to come here. I take the box from them and go to where you are."
"We'd be leaving the other person stranded."
She winked. "They don't have to know that."
It was a little too sneaky. What she implied about it was worse. I had enough bad deeds on my plate.
Marlene smiled warmly. She knew she was saying the right thing again. "I'll get us Morphing Potions and stuff. Any requests?"
I felt sentimental just then. "Some sort of Krawk Morphing Potion," I said.
"Coming right up!" She began to dash to the door.
"...and a Skunk Paint Brush, please," I added softly.
From the doorway, she turned to me with teary eyes. The smile still shone on her lips, a solemn sort of smile. "Oh, Trenn," she whispered.
My voice trembled when I said, "In his honor."
"In his honor," she repeated.
Marlene and I snuck down a Castle corridor, late at night, a month or so back in time. Every time I asked her what she said to the Blue Cybunny I'd sent back into our time (meaning, I handed him the wound Box and pressed the button for him without him having much say), she only responded with a curt smile.
She had gone simple this time with the Morphing Potions—she snuck alongside me as a Pink Kyrii, and was fully utilizing that shifty Kyrii smile. I couldn't help but notice the slight admiration in her eyes every time she took in the skunk Krawk form of the mentor that I now wore. I did it in his honor, but it felt deceptive because she kept looking up to me and respecting me much more than she would've if I had the body of a spotted Grarrl.
A pair of guards were stationed in front of the King's chambers. "Trenn and Marlene," I said, with much more confidence than I felt. "We'd like to see the King."
The White Gelert on the left examined us for only a moment before announcing our presence to the King.
If he was tired when I met him two years into the past, he was absolutely exhausted when he climbed out of his bed. The bags under his eyes had expanded beyond known dimensions. He wore striped pyjamas, which were askew, and he rubbed at his eyes vigorously.
"I was having the loveliest dream," he said. "Of course, you'd come along to interrupt it."
"We're sorry, Your Majesty," Marlene said with a slight bow.
"It's okay. Wasn't much of a good dream, though it wasn't a nightmare, and those seem to come by often. I just dreamt my mother got a new hat." He was clearly out of it.
"That sounds wonderful, Your Majesty," I said. "We've come here to assist you in any way we can around the Castle. We think you need all the help you can get, if you don't mind me saying so."
The King just nodded groggily. "I haven't seen you guys in forever. I'll have George make arrangements for you. Nice rooms. You'll like them." His eyes widened suddenly. "Did you find out how to stop the curse, Trenn? Is that why you're here? It's all about to go back?"
The sudden hope caught me off-guard, and I felt my heart sink. How many people was I letting down, by having caused the curse? How many was I letting down by not being able to stop it? "I'm sorry, Your Majesty, but we've given up on stopping the curse. There's nothing we can do. It isn't preventable."
"But you've got that Time Box!" he exclaimed. "You can change anything, prevent anything! It's the most valuable asset in this whole kingdom, I'd say!"
Marlene glanced at me. I knew she was wondering why I had suddenly chosen to give up. "We've just given up on preventing it, Your Majesty. There are things we can try to lift the curse, as with any curse. There's still hope yet."
I wanted to take her aside and tell her that, no, there was no hope. An understanding about the nature of time travel began to creep into my mind. If it happened, it happened, and there was nothing you could do to stop it. If I prevented the curse, it wouldn't exist in the first place, and none of us would know it ever happened.
I suppose I haven't seen much of the future, so there was that tiny sliver of hope for the curse to be lifted by one of us. The problem was how we were going to do it and where we were going to get that knowledge.
"I'm going out tonight," Marlene said. "There's a little magic shop down in the plaza, and it was run by a homely little wizard. I know he had a library. If it hasn't been looted, I'll see what information I can find."
"That was a real wizard?" I asked. "I always thought it was just some person trying to sell fake magic goods."
"No, Trenn, it was real. A potion I bought there cured my sister of NeoMites, without even needing the medicine."
I didn't try to explain that the medicine was probably in the potion somewhere, and it didn't need to be an act of magic at all. Let her hold onto whatever hope she had left, because she was probably the last one determined to stop this.
"I thank you for your efforts," the King said. "I'm afraid there is little I myself can do." He patted the White Gelert on the back. "George, set these two up with nice rooms in the east wing."
George led us to rooms, and Marlene left shortly after to search for those books.
Dangerously, I was left with my own thoughts and the Time Box.
Was it possible to make something happen which hadn't happened before? If the curse was preventable, then it would be prevented already, and no one would remember, right? The thought of time was starting to hurt my mind, but I needed to test it out.
I searched the room for a small object—a green brooch, left on the nightstand by the last person who stayed here. I dropped onto my belly and lifted the covers of the bed off the ground. There wasn't so much as a speck of dust underneath the bed.
Clutching the brooch, I sent myself back 24 hours with the Time Box. My surroundings changed very little, just the way I wanted it to be. I checked under the bed again. Nothing. Carefully, I propped up the brooch against a groove in the carpet.
The Time Box sent me forward 24 hours again, so I was at the place where I started. Part of me didn't want to check under the bed, to see if it worked. But I had to.
I got down onto my belly again, and, to my surprise... there the brooch was. It was in the same exact groove, in the same place I put it yesterday, even though when I checked here before there was nothing.
So, it was possible to change the future.
Marlene didn't return until the next morning. She brought back a stack of books with her, and immediately collapsed into her bed. I caught on from her attitude that she didn't find anything useful in the books she read through last night.
I flipped through their tables of contents and a few sections which caught my eye. The pages told me nothing I didn't know, or nothing I needed to know. I skimmed through them, though not with hope, for anything about curses, and found nothing other than what the wizard who cursed me told me. Often times, specific cases of curses were listed—but they were often too large or too minor to have a manner of "lifting" them.
A hearty breakfast was brought to my room in the morning without my asking. I dug in as I read the books. I sensed it was probably one of my better breakfasts, though after the wizard meal everything felt bland.
I skimmed the fourth book, and nearly choked on my food when I came to an entire chapter about curses. This could be the book that saved the kingdom. With shaking claws, I turned the pages.
Lifting a Curse
A curse may be lifted by the curser, if such a technique is built into the curse itself. Lifting a curse is a rare occurrence, and often impossible. It is recommended...
Well, then. That was that. I'd heard the curse, word for word, and the wizard didn't build any way out into it. She wanted vengeance, and there is no remorse in vengeance.
Marlene sauntered in a few hours after my discovery, and I showed her the passage. She frowned. "Do you think there was a way out built into this curse? It was kind of severe. I'm sure the wizard had a backup plan, in case he changed his mind about dooming the kingdom. Wizards are smart. They often have foresight."
I had to stop myself from mentioning what wizards would do when their families are involved.
"To curse the entire kingdom of the cursee must have been an act of rage, don't you think? The wizard was probably beyond rational thought."
"I suppose," she said, but I could tell she hadn't entirely dismissed the idea. "Let's meet with the King, and tell him the news."
In the light of day, I could see the dead grass expanding in every direction. Every window was an eyesore, exactly the way it was where we'd come from. I assumed last night that the people were just sleeping, but the Castle was almost entirely empty. A handful of guards were all that remained, and the King often had them situated very, very close to himself.
He was feasting on a meal prepared by the very last of his servants when we entered. It seemed that he rarely left his bedroom, and if he did, it was only to go out on the ballroom balcony to think.
The King smiled warmly at us when we entered, though that smile quickly disappeared when he saw our expressions. "Is there any news?"
"We don't think the curse can be lifted," Marlene said. "The manner of ending the curse has to be built in to the curse itself, and we don't believe there is one."
"And you can't prevent it at all?" the King asked.
"Actually," I said, "I think it might be possible."
Marlene elbowed me in the side. I hadn't told her. If she went back and stopped it herself, she would find me at the heart of the curse. Not only would I lose her trust from that, but I would lose it from the fact I hadn't told her about any of it. I was trapped.
"I'd greatly appreciate it if you could get on that as soon as possible."
"With time travel, it doesn't have to be immediate, Your Majesty," Marlene clarified. "Whether we go tomorrow or the day after, it won't make a difference."
"Yes, but it makes a difference in my mind." One of the guards was giggling inappropriately. The King eyed him warily and nodded to the others. "The last of them are going mad." The guards took him away, kicking and screaming. "I have very few left, and I'd like to not be mad myself by the time this is fixed."
"I'll leave at once, Your Majesty," Marlene said.
It was almost time to face the truth. I wasn't looking forward to it.
We went back to my room and I calculated how far back she would need to go to stop the Blumaroo. "There's this speckled Blumaroo, in a cloak," I explained. "She's going to be the one who causes the curse. Just get to her before she gets to this hut in the Marshland. I don't know the exact location, so you might have to look around a bit."
Marlene ran her hand over the Box. "I trust you, Trenn." And I saw that statement proved in her eyes. Deep down, I knew it was because she was used to trusting the mentor, and I looked exactly like he had. She thought whatever I saw last time traumatized me, and that I didn't want to talk about it.
She was only partially right.
Marlene was gone in the next instant. I only had to wait for an hour for her to come back.
Her fur was disheveled, and her legs were soaked with swamp water. I ripped the blanket off of her bed and put it around her shoulders. Marlene was shivering badly. I had a feeling it wasn't from the cold.
"Met that Blumaroo," she said. "Not the friendliest wizard ever."
"Did you stop her?" I asked quietly. It needed to be asked, even if the answer was evident.
"There's no stopping her, Trenn. She's an extraordinarily powerful wizard. She shoved me into the swamp and froze me there without so much as lifting a finger. I didn't have a chance."
The only other way I could think of to prevent it was stopping me from going there in the first place, but I'd have to find out what time it was before I time travelled back, or I could go to the swamp and stop myself right there, or...
It was all so complicated with the element of time travel added to it. I couldn't calculate how far away I'd have to go to get there. There were too many numbers to fool around with, too many factors that came into play. Staying in the past for so long, as we were, was really messing up my senses. It felt like the present. It was the present. I was losing track of the past and the future. It all blended together to me, one big mess of time.
We could work together to stop the starry Kau's niece from coming, the starry Kau from moving to the hut, the Blumaroo from living nearby, the Marshlands from forming. It would all take time, calculations, and convincing. The mentor going mad had shown me that none of us were immune. I had no clue how much time any of us had left.
It was too much. The mentor would be able to handle this situation much better than I could, I knew, and now Marlene was relying on me for the facts. I was the only one who had them, too, and I wasn't willing to reveal the truth to her. She couldn't meet me when I was committing the crime that cursed the land.
The burden of it all fell on my shoulders, and I knew in that moment there was nothing I could do. I didn't want her to find out, and the many paths to take were too complicated and too much to think about.
"Is there anything else we can do?" she asked. "How does the curse happen, Trenn? Do you know the details?"
I cleared my throat. "I only know about the Blumaroo, and that she shouldn't get to the hut."
"Well, if we know the time, maybe we can watch the curse happen and understand more about it."
An alarm went off in my mind. "No, we can't get too close, Marl. If we do, we could mess with the curse."
"Don't we want to mess with the curse?" she said lightly.
"We could make it worse, though."
She placed a hand on my shoulder. "Trenn, we have to try something."
"Read up more on curses," I said. "Maybe there's another way. That book was fairly new. Old secrets come in old books. They had to have some spell or something that can reverse it."
"I'd like to think so, Trenn, but I don't know if we'd be able to use it. We're not wizards." She selected a book from the pile, one I hadn't read yet. For being just one Kyrii, she had carried quite a few back.
"No, we really aren't wizards." I paused, watching her leaf through the book with a frustrated expression. "I'm sorry, Marlene. I've just about given up. There's nothing we can do."
"I'm going to keep trying," she said, "even if you're not. I hope you'll give me whatever assistance I need."
"I'll help you, but it won't be good for anything."
She stopped what she was doing and stared up at me. I was her last hope, and I was admitting that I would let her down.
I took a deep breath. "There's nothing we can do but sit and hope the kingdom descends gracefully into death."
To be continued...