Duplicity: Part Nine
At the royal library, Lisha shuffled through legend after legend where any demons or wraiths were mentioned. She had already amassed a tower of books on the identification of so-called “evil” magics and spells, which had grown so large its structural integrity was faltering. The books she had read were thrown in a huge pile on the ground.
Lissandre lazily walked by, a small, thin book wedged into her arm. She gaped at Lisha’s chaotic organization. Included in the titles she perused were The Death of Tarken the Brave, The Demise of the Four Kingdoms, and The Left-Behind Prisoners of Farade. Lissandre had the vague idea that all these tales were rather grim, but she wasn’t one to remember the details of mere fiction.
“I’m glad you’re not into architecture, Lisha,” she said. “All your buildings would collapse.”
It took a few moments for Lisha to realize Lissandre was there. She rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Huh? Yeah, sure, I would be horrible. Agriculture isn’t really my thing.”
“I said ‘architecture.’”
“Oh, right, sorry,” mumbled Lisha. “It’s been a long night—haven’t really slept at all.”
“That’s not good. I don’t want to have a sleepy assistant today,” replied Lissandre. “So, anyway, what got you up so late? A love of research?”
“Kind of.” Lisha, finding that she couldn’t had anything to her existing column of to-read books, started on another architectural marvel.
“You could have scored a lot of kudos from me if your topic of interest was about time and magical space, instead of . . . instead of whatever it is you’re looking at.
“I’m looking at the occurrence of the Three in legend, and whatever similarities their magic have to other types.” Lisha gestured at her notebook, which was filled with scribbles and short-hands unintelligible to anyone but herself. Detailed pictures of wraiths, crossed-out words and paragraphs sprawled over its open pages.
Lissandre brought her index finger to her chin. “That’s . . . interesting. But I thought you said you didn’t believe the Three existed; what’s the use of trying to parse out their magic?”
“I’ve had a change of heart.”
“May I ask how it came to be?”
“Nope,” said Lisha.
That her brother was under the influence of three ancient and powerful demons wasn’t exactly the type of thing she wanted to reveal, especially when he was in charge of the entire kingdom. She didn’t want to hurt Jeran’s reputation any more than she had to.
Lisha had learned quite a bit about the Three, or at least, what she could pick up from scattered legend and conjecture, which wasn’t really ideal. She’d worked out that the Three were powerful wraiths that were supposedly shaped by Neopian emotion long ago, but how and why were uncertain. At any rate, their power came from the emotions they represented.
The Three gave out portions of their ancient power to whoever agreed to be changed by them, in exchange for a few fragments of their souls. The contract was, in theory, temporary, and as long as the Neopian succeeded, they’d get their soul back. However, if the Neopian failed in the endeavor they used the magic toward, the Three would permanently own whatever portions of the soul they had taken.
Jeran had likely put an unwise amount of his own soul under their control. Lisha had to find a way to somehow void the contract—without having it fail—to pull her brother out of its influence. Others might not have been so considerate to him.
“Sorry,” said Lissandre. “I was just curious. You see, Lord Darigan commissions much of my research, and at one point, he had a great interest in the Three and their magic.”
She bent down, put a hand on Lisha’s shoulder, and whispered: “No one is interested in the Three until they’re affected by them. Is it someone close?”
“Come with me.” Lissandre took Lisha’s hand and exited the library, paying no heed to Lisha’s protestations that it was unseemly to simply leave without cleaning up. Lisha quickly grabbed her notebook on the way out.
They ducked into a small, unused storeroom with various broken furniture and decorations littering the ground. Lisha sleepily tripped over them before regaining her balance. She stared blankly at Lissandre until she decided to say something.
“Who is it?” asked Lissandre. “Jeran? It has to be him.”
Lisha was too tired to come up with a properly vague lie. In fact, her mind was still processing things that happened many minutes ago. Through a yawn, she asked, “Wait, did you just say you did research for Lord Darigan about the Three?”
“Yes. Lord Darigan said was under their influence, once upon a time.” Lissandre paused. “When he first told me about it, I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just crazy, but . . .”
Interest jolted Lisha’s mind awake. She knew the Darigans were more apt to believe in the Three; they certainly believed Kass was under their influence. Lisha didn’t even consider Darigan might have been too. He was too lucid for it.
Well, now he was lucid. It didn’t seem that way when he tried to invade Meridell to retrieve the orb, and especially not when he’d turned on his own kingdom. In retrospect, it made a little sense for him to have dealt with them.
“Was under their influence? You mean, he got out of their influence?” she asked. “How?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t know,” replied Lissandre. “And our attempts to find out led to a dead end.”
“Oh.” So much for a glimmer of hope.
Lissandre took a breath and made her voice as soft as possible: “Lisha, listen, this advice is for your own good: don’t try to interfere with your brother. Don’t try to pull him out. It will only end badly.”
Lisha’s eyes narrowed into slits. Was she really telling her to just let Jeran be consumed by three demons and then eventually drive Meridell into the ground? “You don’t know that.”
“Listen to me, please.” Lissandre spoke before Lisha could interrupt: “Those under the Three’s influence are so preoccupied in their goals that trying to help them will mostly likely result in an acceleration into their madness.”
“They see things through a different lens cast over them, and they act from that. It stands to reason that if you change the lens, you can get them to change their goals and void the Three’s contract.”
“No, they don’t,” replied Lissandre. “There is no lens. The Three don’t work that way. They take away fragments that correspond to certain parts of someone and fill the resulting void with ambition, greed, and a thirst for vengeance.”
The Three, then, did not possess their targets in a conventional sense. They did not take control of their minds or cast a heavy veil over them. They changed something much more fundamental.
Lisha could list dozens of things wrong with her brother off the top of her head, things he’d want to rid himself of, things that would explain why he would take refuge in the Three. That didn’t give her any comfort.
“So only the Neopian themselves can do anything about it,” said Lisha.
“Yes.” Lissandre sighed. “The best thing to do is to minimize the amount of damage he can do. Warn people, other kingdoms, maybe even the duchies of Meridell themselves.”
Lisha would not abandon her own brother to the Three. She would not abandon someone who would never abandon her. She would not abandon someone who stuck through with others at whatever cost to himself. He didn’t deserve that, no matter how inevitable or hopeless Lissandre made it out to be.
The world is full of danger, but there is always hope.
That was had he had written to her in what he expected to be his last battle, when he’d led a small force fly to the citadel and face off against Kass himself. It had very lightly tempered the hopelessness she’d felt when she thought he was gone.
If Jeran did something horrible, then failed by the Three and perished, well . . . Lisha wasn’t very comfortable with that thought. Jeran dying at the hands of Kass in a noble effort to defend his kingdom, that at least had him die as a hero. Leaving him as is would result in an inglorious, ignoble demise at best. He would change too much by then, and the last memories she’d have of him would be tainted.
Maybe she’d feel nothing at all for him.
“No, not yet. There has to be another way,” said Lisha, “and I’m finding it. You can’t possibly know everything.”
“To you. Not to me. Maybe I can find what you and Darigan looked over. A new pair of unbiased eyes can never hurt.” She tapped her own chest and put on a confident expression. “Besides, I’m Lisha Borodere, I vanquished the court dancer, and that was a good time ago. I’m much better now. I’m sure I can do this.”
“That was a simple revealing incantation!” hissed Lissandre in exasperation. “Being one of the best sorceresses in Meridell is hardly an accomplishment. I’m sure the court dancer didn’t even cast that strong a spell, anyway.”
“It’s worth a try.” Lisha knew this would happen if anyone else knew. They wouldn’t care. Perhaps if she could just convince Lissandre to hold off for a few days: “Listen, Jeran’s my only family here, he means a lot to me. Please, just a week or so.”
“A few days and a failed attempt could be too much.” Lissandre’s face scrunched up in a grimace. “You’re being selfish.”
“Excuse me? Selfish?” Lisha’s jaw dropped. “Wanting to not abandon Jeran is selfish? Really?”
“Yes, it is,” replied Lissandre. “The only reason you want to help him is that he’s your brother. You want him to still be . . . whoever he is to you, at the cost of letting him destroy others.”
“He can’t progress, not like this. You don’t get it,” snapped Lisha. “Jeran isn’t one to be easily stopped, not when he puts his dogged mind to something. It’s the most intuitive way to stop it.” A few more words came to mind to defend why she wanted to help Jeran. Lisha opened her mouth to get started, but when she looked at Lissandre’s apparent irritation, she decided on a curt: “Whatever. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I wouldn’t understand? No, Lisha, I believe I understand perfectly well.” For the first time, Lissandre’s visage flooded almost completely with anger. Almost. “You’re deluding yourself. You’re wasting your time!” she yelled.
Lissandre stuck her head up, turned away, and stormed out of the room. She pushed aside whoever stood in her way, aimlessly heading in whichever direction she needed to diffuse the well of tears forming in her eyes.
Lisha would come around, she knew. She’d surely realize what a huge brick wall she’d hit. She was a smart Aisha.***
Lisha’s leaning tower of read books grew steadily larger each day. The two Neopians who made up the library staff had given up on trying to lecture her on how much easier for them it would be if she didn’t leave such a mess. Instead, they’d just let it accumulate in her little corner in the library and left her undisturbed.
She stuck her nose in book after book, straining her eyes in the silent, dark nights while the candlelight flickered and faded, taking notes on whatever seemed important until her wrists could not function anymore. Her tabletop was scorched from many a magical experiment that didn’t quite pan out, many tip-of-the-tongue epiphanies that failed to come to fruition.
At first, the failures didn’t bother Lisha. She would just try again. After all, she had still had quite the material to go through, perhaps a bit of information she still hadn’t uncovered. That trove, however, had dwindled without giving much value, and she was losing hope that it ever had any.
Lissandre hardly saw her at all. Lisha did her research work and promptly dropped it off to a secretary, who then handed it to her. It was good work, nice and neat, but she didn’t like this new turn of events. So she snuck around the library one day after the other, managing to read a few pages of notes while Lisha dozed off.
As expected, she did hit a sort of wall. If she couldn’t change the Three’s influence from Jeran’s side, perhaps she could instead make the contract meaningless by liberating the Three of Jeran’s soul fragments and making him fail in his goal some other way.
The only problem was that the Three held the soul in their realm, which was inaccessible to all except those they allowed in. Any reasonable Neopian would have given up there, but Lisha just bashed all her ideas against that wall in hopes of breaking it down. She’d thrown many ideas, most of which sounded good but had fatal flaws in them for one reason or another.
One, however, gradually caught Lissandre’s interest: Lisha at one pointed wanted to see if there was a way to contact somebody already in the Three’s realm and use them to create a magical conduit, a passage, between the physical world and theirs. A crazy idea, for sure, but one that wasn’t impossible, if you knew anyone who was there.
Jeran was important to Lisha. Perhaps it was worth a try to help out her poor research assistant—after all, just because something failed before, it didn’t mean it was doomed to fail again. One night, after some deliberation, Lissandre formulated a plan, marched to the royal library, and shook Lisha awake.
“Lisha!” she whispered. “Lisha, I think I know how to save your brother.”
“Lissandre?” Lisha took a while to open her eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“I was reading through your notes,” replied Lissandre. “And I think you’ve stumbled upon a way to best the Three.”
“You read my notes?” Lisha blinked and put on her glasses. “Why? I thought you said trying to free Jeran from the Three was a useless enterprise.”
“I changed my mind by reading your notes.”
“That’s rude,” mumbled Lisha. At this point, she accepted that Lissandre’s temperamental inconsistencies were as inevitable as the sun rising each day. “What managed to change your mind, anyway? I was just about thinking it was all hopeless.”
“Your idea to make a magical conduit to the Three’s realm with the help of somebody already on the inside. Then you get physically in there and fetch the fragments of Jeran’s soul. It doesn’t have to be somebody, though, it can just be an object with a link to there.”
“Can’t work. The only thing I know that works to that end is Jeran’s ring, and I have a feeling that he won’t part with it easily.”
“There’s another one in Meridell, I think: the orb.”
A single orb started all hostilities between Meridell and the Darigan Citadel. Some forty years ago, Meridell was dying of hunger and plague, and so Skarl set up a band of knights to find something—anything—that could lift the affliction from his people. Following the words of an old soothsayer, the band of knights learned of an orb that would bring prosperity to whoever had it.
But a peaceful kingdom already owned the orb and Skarl shortsightedly decided to steal it from them. The loss of that orb brought ruin upon those people as it brought prosperity to Meridell. And decades upon decades later, their shattered remains arrived for the orb on a dark, floating citadel.
“The orb broke at the end of the first war, though,” said Lisha. “It has no magical energy.”
“We don’t need its magical energy, we just need whatever latent energy it was left. If I can channel the appropriate magical energy through it . . .”
“. . . Then I can go into the Three’s realm and fetch Jeran’s soul fragments, and then we can cause him to fail the contract without consequence. That might work; the only trouble is that you would have to start sustain the conduit.”
Once a conduit to another realm was started, it couldn’t be stopped until the transported party returned, and this sort of thing required massive amounts of it. “Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Lissandre. “I should be able to do it, and as long as you don’t plan to stay an entire week in there, my magic won’t drain.”
“I think I know where to get the orb, then,” said Lisha. It was in display in the old throne room for historical interest. “Meet me in the eastern courtyard in two hours.”
“Two hours?” asked Lissandre.
“The sooner, the better,” said Lisha. “It’ll be much easier to just collect a few fragments of Jeran’s soul than many.”
“All right, then.”
Lisha promptly left. Lissandre herself made the trek from the library to her quarters. She navigated through the cramped space and shuffled through the multiple shelves and racks she stored various reagents and books in. Her fingers fumbled through rough flowers and dried leaves before touching a soft piece of cloth.
She grasped the small sack and laid it on her bed, curling the outside of it to reveal a few sickly green shards sprawled over a thin thread. Two withered feathers were buried in them.
Taking a deep breath, Lissandre intertwined her fingers with the threads of the world and slowly, slowly, pulled them apart. The thread that linked each event with the next, time, shriveled and resisted her manipulation, but eventually, time it agreed to open its floodgates.
Energy swirled around Lissandre as she directed a newfound flood of magical energy toward the contents of the sack. A dull cyan glow formed around the pieces of the amulet as they moved up into the air and put themselves back together, back to a previous state.
When they had fully formed back into the Kass Charm, Lissandre let go of the threads. She caught the charm as it went down, squeezing it to see if it was the real thing. It had been a long time since she had seen it in its original form.
“Buddy, I need your help,” she told the charm, bringing it to her face. “It’s the least you can do.”
She waited in some silly hope that it would do something in response, but nothing happened, for better or for worse. Lissandre tied the charm around her neck and tucked it inside her robes.
To be continued…