The Prophetess's Tale: Part Ten
The room was bright and cheerful. Finger sandwiches were passed around, tea was poured, people laughed and commended Audley on a job well done.
And Cheyenne felt terrible.
It had been fun for a while there, pretending to be some magical soothsayer. In the end, she hadn’t even done much, but the pretending had been fun. Audley had been fun. She’d forgotten who she was working with, told herself that he could be good and that the future she saw would not happen.
It was so, so foolish of her. He’d pinned the crime on an innocent detective instead, even an esteemed one who had a lot to lose. It was heartless, pointless, terrible.
And she’d gone along with it. Why? Why had she done that? Could she have found no better way to tag along with Audley to stop him from doing terrible things?
Could he even be stopped?
She sat by his side, looking miserable and feeling worse. He laughed as though nothing were the matter and occasionally patted her paw to let her know to stop acting out of character. No, she was done cooperating. She was done with this “character.” There was no stopping him now. Her only hope was to get out of there and warn Polly, so Polly could take measures into her own hands about the terrible thing Cheyenne had seen.
“Audley,” Cheyenne said under her breath. He turned to her and patted her paw a little too forcefully. She barely even noticed that she used his actual name.
“Is there anything I can help you with, Cheyenne? Please, celebrate with us.”
The other nobles at the table nodded and encouraged her to join in.
“I’m actually feeling rather ill,” Cheyenne said. It was not even a lie. “Sorry, excuse me.”
Cheyenne had just barely made it to the door when a yellow Vandagyre burst through and nearly knocked her over. She huffed, brushing her large and unnecessary dress and wishing she could just take it off, then and there.
“The—” the Vandagyre started, but a striped Meerca burst through the door right behind him and did, successfully, knock him down. She was followed shortly by the accused Detective and three other guards.
“This man,” the Meerca said, “is not Grite Lomne at all, nor do any traces of a detective by this name exist.”
Cheyenne took in her stance, her demeanor. It was remarkably like Audley’s.
“Please—” the king started, seated at the raised part of the ballroom.
“No, I will not be silenced. This man is the son of Verris Oakley, the pirate you caught years ago in his dungeons. Surely, you see the resemblance?”
Audley stood from his seat and smiled. “I’d recognize you anywhere,” he said, approaching her. Guards surrounded her, but most of them appeared to be confused about who they should be defending, and the king with his gaping mouth was no help. Audley leaned down before the Meerca and kissed her hand. “The former Queen of the Underground. You’re practically a role model.”
The king finally seemed to come to his senses. “Grite? Who—Someone tell me what’s going on here immediately, or I will have you all locked away.”
The yellow Quiggle stepped forward, as if to defend himself, but was quickly overridden by Audley. “My name,” he said, addressing the whole room rather than the king himself, “is Audley. Son of the pirate Verris, the lord of the sea.”
Cheyenne’s head swam. She needed to get out of there, before someone realized she was on the bad guy’s side.
“Amazing that it took this long for you to pick up my trail. I left so many obvious clues. Particularly you, Detective. You should be ashamed,” Audley said, getting to his feet.
The Quiggle turned red.
King Tristan stood from his seat. “You confess to falsifying your identity and kidnapping my son?” he asked.
“With pleasure,” Audley said. “I suppose if anyone figured it out first, it had to be you, Miss Emilia. I’ll be looking forward to working with you in the future.” He winked. She rolled her eyes.
Cheyenne inched toward the door. The room was too quiet to escape, but everyone had their attention on Audley. It was now or never.
“Where is my son?” the king demanded.
“What, so I can tell you and you can arrest me? I don’t think so, Your Majesty.” He grabbed Cheyenne by the sleeve of her dress and yanked toward the tall window. “Goodbye. It was lovely knowing you all!” he said.
The guards surged at him. Audley merely put a claw against the glass, and it shattered into millions of people.
“This is where we run,” he told Cheyenne, and they did.
Cheyenne darted off, shedding the bothersome dress as she did. The guards came like a sea after them, followed by a few bold noblemen and the detective himself.
“That was magic!” Cheyenne exclaimed, panting.
“I know, I know. I always try to have a great performance,” Audley said calmly, as though the running did not bother him. He was much faster than her but clearly holding back. The guards yelled angrily behind them, spurring them onward.
“No—I mean, breaking the window was magic! You used magic!” She caught her breath. “You’re a witch!”
“I’m Polly’s apprentice. I thought you gathered that from her blouse.”
Cheyenne nearly stopped in her tracks before remembering the guards chasing her. She really wished that she’d managed to escape via a separate route, for the guards surely cared more for Audley’s capture than hers. “Why would Polly train you in the magic arts?”
“Must be my charming personality,” Audley said, flashing his teeth.
“Wait,” Cheyenne said. She stopped and put her hands out in front of her and closed her eyes. A fire started on the ground where her hands were outstretched, and spread along a thin line like a wall. “Come on, help me.”
Audley swallowed and cracked his knuckles. A few sparks sputtered from his fingertips, but that was it.
“Seriously?” Cheyenne asked incredulously. “What witch can’t start fires? That’s like the first thing in the book!”
“Don’t think I haven’t worked on it. What in the world is a wall of fire going to do for us?”
“Well, it was going to block them off, if you were able to help me with it! I can’t do it all on my own!” Cheyenne exclaimed.
The guards approached, the light of the flames reflecting off their eyes and weapons. The wall of fire was impressive, but not impeding enough. Cheyenne broke off into a run again. “Where are we headed?” she asked, breathless.
“Nearly at the port. Don’t be silly. I’ve always got a way out.”
They dashed through the gates and weaved around fishermen, traders, and sailors. The guards were far behind them now, and without Cheyenne’s brightly colored outfit, they nearly blended in with the crowd. It got to the point where they could not hear the guards anymore, and began to walk at a leisurely pace.
“You’re Polly’s apprentice,” Cheyenne said, more to get used to the idea than to confirm the fact. “She chose to train you.”
“I’m very persuasive, as you have figured by now.”
Polly was a very sensible elderly Acara. Cheyenne couldn’t imagine that she would do something as rash as taking on a conman and son of notorious pirate for an apprentice.
“Why did you…what was the point of this whole scheme?”
“They know my name now,” he said, grinning smugly as he sauntered along the dock. He grabbed a peach from a stand and tossed the seller a coin.
“You did it just so they’d know your name?”
“Well, how else was I going to get my name out there? I’m not going to ride in on my father’s reputation, that’s for sure.”
“It was too perfect…”
“Suspiciously perfect. Naturally, it was supposed to be that way. I couldn’t have possibly set up Charlie as the guard, right? That guard had worked there for years, and this is not large enough of a con to plan it out that far. People are not nearly as intelligent as they pretend to be, Cheyenne. I paid the old guard off and he’s retired in some remote island with his family, paid a random servant girl to come up and hug Charlie when he walked in. Nobody even remembered what the original guard looked like.”
“Why blame the detective for it all?”
“I thought he was cleverer than he was. I really set the whole trap up for him, because I knew he was the typical detective of the area. I was hoping he’d catch on before I had to accuse him of anything, but that’s okay. I mean, I bought up so much tigermelon, and then left tigermelon juice on the floor of the prince’s room. It should’ve been obvious.” He shook his head, as though disappointed. “I’m pleased the Queen of the Underground found me out, though. She was a fun factor.”
“You’re doing this just for the pleasure of it,” Cheyenne said in horror.
“Not just the pleasure of it, Cheyenne,” he said. “The glory.” He sighed with contentedness. “The prince was never really in the desert, either, you know. He’s just in a hovel right outside the palace.”
Cheyenne was speechless.
They stood before a ship now. Charlie waved from the stern.
“This is our ride,” Audley clarified. He darted toward the ship, and Cheyenne reached out and grabbed his shirt without thinking. Part of it ripped off in her hand. He gawked at her curiously, but it was too late.
The images were already flashing through her mind. The future.
There was no chance of saving it. No chance of making it less horrible, of saving Polly, of saving any of them.
“Cheyenne!” The voice broke through her vision but did not shatter it. She was completely helpless. There was nothing she could do.
So she ran, with tears in her eyes, and she ran and ran. Nobody followed her, but she continued to run anyway, distressed and heaving with sobs. There was a reason she’d gone off to live on her own, a reason she lived way up north with no one for miles around. It was because people were hurtful, dangerous.
People always, always used her, and there was nothing she could do to escape from it but hole herself up in the middle of nowhere.
She ran until her feet hurt, until blisters popped up and she had to stop near a lake. Shaking, with the tears still in her eyes, she leaned over the water and muttered a spell.
A red Vandagyre’s face appeared in the water. “What, what is it?” The voice belonged to a woman. “Cheyenne? Is that you? Are you okay?” She was shocked, concerned.
Cheyenne sniffed and wiped at her nose. This time, she was done for good. No contact with anyone, ever again. She took a deep breath and said the last thing she would ever say to another person:
“Rona, the Five are going to perish at the hands of Polly’s apprentice. And you’re next.”