Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 99,276,740 Issue: 197 | 1st day of Swimming, Y7
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Curses, Inside-Out: Part One

by schefflera


also by Dreagoddess

Authors' note: The Grarrl general who appears in both Meridell plots has been called Galgaroth in an actual Battle for Meridell chapter, Galgarrath in the item "Galgarrath Action Figure," and Galgarroth in his Gallery of Heroes entry. As far as we can tell, all instances refer to the same character. We gave up and just picked the spelling we liked best.

Lisha, the pale orange Aisha sorceress and heroine of Meridell, was having an exceedingly dull day.

     Morris and Boris were busy. Jeran had responded to their turning up on the Citadel during the final battle against Kass by stepping up their training a lot. He had put one of the sternest knights in charge of it, too, so they wouldn't think they could get away with anything.

     Kayla was inventing new potions and couldn't be disturbed, as one of the inventions had glued the door shut and she was working on the solvent. Actually, the window was open and issuing strange smells, but the fact remained that Kayla was not really sociable at the moment.

     And Jeran was gone. He wasn't in any trouble -- he was just making a pass through the swamps in the south to be sure everything was in order -- but he wasn't home.

     Lisha had read until her eyes ached and then gone outside. She was just considering whether to ask King Skarl if she might be allowed to issue a general Meriball challenge when a shadow fell over her, making her shiver. It moved sideways and then stopped. She looked up.

     Lord Darigan, looking rather like a gray gargoyle, had perched on the castle wall.

     "You know," she said to him, "there is a gate."

     "Indeed there is. I asked at it and was told that Sir Jeran was elsewhere, but I saw you on my way off and thought I would greet his sister. Are you well?"

     "I am, thank you," she replied politely. Then impulse got the better of her and she added in just short of a whine, "But I'm bored! Everyone's busy or gone."

     Darigan looked down at her thoughtfully. "I have some time," he offered. "I have a great deal to do, but if I stay indoors too long, Galgarrath very politely and formally proposes flinging me out the window."

     Lisha blinked at that. "Well...I suppose that's not so awful if you have wings, but I don't think it's very funny to talk about throwing people off the Citadel."

     Darigan's mouth turned up wryly at one corner. "General Galgarrath has a different sense of humor, I suppose. He wasn't quite fortunate enough to be caught when Kass had him thrown down, but his landing was cushioned by the rubbish dump."

     "I guess it's a good thing Kass didn't learn to look before he threw people off."

     "He wasn't aware Galgarrath had survived."

     "I never said he was stupid, just mean. I'm still glad he didn't learn better." Lisha really didn't want to continue on the subject. It made her stomach start to twist and her heart ache just a little bit, even though she knew good and well Jeran was just fine. So she looked up at Darigan and blurted out, "Would you like to play Meriball?"

     "Your brother has warned me about the way you play Meriball," Darigan said, then gave her a startlingly mischievous grin. "Why not? But you'll have to instruct me."

     "Oh, I can do that." Lisha led him to an empty court and explained first the basic rules, then the finer points.

     At last Darigan nodded. "I think I have it. We've a basically similar game at home, though I haven't played in... many years. I shall try to avoid mixing up any of the differences."

     "What do you call it?" Lisha asked curiously. "Dariball?"

     He laughed. "Gourd."



     Lisha was still trying to make sense of this. "Did you use a gourd instead of a ball?"

     "Not when I was playing. I suppose someone might have, but we really never played with our food quite as much as you lot seem to...."

     Lisha threw the ball at him.

     Darigan caught it. "Oh, is it my serve?"


     An hour later, Lisha had won half a dozen matches. They were both cheerfully out of breath, Darigan had grass stains ground into his robes, and Lisha had skinned an elbow against one wall the single time he'd gotten her to trip over a Symol.

     "That was fun!" Lisha said brightly, rubbing her elbow as she flopped down onto the grass. She looked over at Darigan, who was still leaning against the wall, and grinned. "Are you finished?"

     "I am not as young as I once was." An odd gesture, and the green stains squirmed slowly loose from black fabric, collecting in a ball in the air.

     "Ooh." Lisha's antennae perked up at the unfamiliar spell. At least she assumed it was a spell. Magic of some sort, that was for certain. "I don't know how to do that. Well, I haven't tried."

     "What?" Darigan looked over at her, then back down at the little ball of green mush. "Ah... it's a separation spell, then a containment one." He looked back up and studied her for a moment. "Jeran did mention your magical development took a somewhat unorthodox route."

     Lisha frowned a bit and tried to study the spell. "You could say that. I mostly just use my wand. I've been trying to study spells from the castle library." And had been successful in some degrees, she thought proudly, thinking back to that horrible court dancer who'd enthralled everyone. "But it's hard to even find the books I need in the library, and they all seem like they were written for someone who's already been studying for years. Nobody makes a magic primer, I guess."

     "I thought the wand was a weapon only." Darigan sounded rather intrigued. "I suppose I shouldn't have assumed that, but magical items that can be used as weapons as well as for other purposes are... unusual." He paused, looking thoughtful, and then seated himself in the grass against the wall with no apparent regard for the fact that he'd just cleaned his clothing. "And you're right: magical primers are also fairly unusual. You'll find the occasional treatises on the nature of magic, which might be some help, but those can be just as esoteric as the more specialized spellbooks."

     "My wand is 'fairly unusual'," Lisha said dryly. Especially considering it wasn't ever supposed to actually work! "But what good are all of those spellbooks if I can barely understand them?"

     "Very little until you can." Darigan chuckled and folded his arms loosely across his knees. "You're fairly unusual. Working out the use of a magical item without instruction isn't unheard of, but it's not exactly the easiest place to start. Most magical training begins with personal instruction from someone more experienced." He frowned. "Should I take it there's no one in Meridell you could ask, short of the faeries? I'd have thought someone had to be responsible for the spellbooks, but I'd also have expected to see some sign of them in battle."

     "Jeran said I should ask Illusen, but I...I'm a little afraid of her. And she doesn't seem to have the same kind of magic anyway."

     "Illusen might be worth a try." Darigan's head turned accurately in the direction of the glade; Lisha saw his nostrils flare slightly and wondered if he could smell it somehow. "I'm inclined to agree with you that she's frightening, but she seems to be kind as well." He laughed softly. "And she favors your brother."

     "She does. It's kind of weird."

     "I was definitely surprised when he suggested that I ask her help."

     "He also said maybe I should go to Brightvale to study. But...I don't want to leave."


     "The next kingdom, where King Skarl's brother rules. The brightest children in Meridell traditionally go there to learn. They have some wizards there."

     Darigan stared at her. "I'm sure I should have heard of them," he said, "but once I learned that the land I was seeking was Meridell, I fear I neglected to inquire too much into the surrounding area. Did you have help from one of the wizards there to take the curse off your wand?"

     "Take the what?" Lisha blinked at him. "My wand isn't cursed."

     "Well, I didn't think it was now. But when you removed it --" Darigan paused as Lisha looked at him blankly. "You have no idea what I'm talking about."

     "No." She tilted her head curiously. "What curse?"

     "During our first battle," he said, "I was of the opinion that you were doing far too much damage to my soldiers, and I put a curse on your wand. I know it worked; I felt it take, and I saw that it worked less well for a while -- but only for a while, so I assumed that at some point you had found and removed my spell."

     She blinked slowly. " did get harder to use for a while. I thought it was just because I didn't really know how it worked..." She stopped, then looked up suddenly and squawked, "You cursed my wand?!"

     "I assumed," he said softly, "that your person would be better defended, and that the wand would be the easier target."

     Lisha opened her mouth, then shut it and gulped slightly. "...Oh."

     "Of course, if you've either removed my curse or worked around or through it unawares, I'd imagine the results of cursing you directly to be rather unpredictable. You, ah, might want to check which it is, though."

     Lisha was silent for a long moment, then finally muttered, "I don't know how."

     "I can show you a diagnostic spell, then, if you like. I wasn't certain if that was one of the topics you'd found in the library, but didn't like to assume."

     "I...that would be good. Thank you." She wasn't sure how to ask him if he'd make more sense than the books did. Well, it wasn't possible to make too much less.

     "You'll want to set the wand down, I think. If you're very much accustomed to a particular item, casting a spell on it instead of through it can be difficult, even one unrelated to its function." He reached over for the staff he had leaned against the wall and laid it in the grass in front of him.

     Lisha pulled her wand out and set it down on the grass in front of her reluctantly. She always hated to be parted from it, even briefly. "This won't hurt it, will it?"

     "It certainly shouldn't." Darigan frowned slightly. "I must ask you to be patient if my explanation isn't ideal. I don't know how much you do know already, and am not experienced in teaching." He extended a hand over the staff. "Feel for each of the six main categories of magic, the faerie spheres -- light, dark, earth, air, water, and fire -- while focusing on the wand. Essentially you will cast a little bit of magic from each sphere. Each type will be repelled and thrown back to you by its opposite, showing you the shape of the enchantments on the wand. You might want to be especially careful with darkness and light; if I remember correctly, those are among the wand's main functions and should reflect one another most strongly."

     Lisha frowned thoughtfully and extended her hand as Darigan had done. "...But how can I tell from how it answers me what kind of spells there are?"

     "Well, for instance, the light magic you cast out will reflect back and tell you the strength and form of any dark magic on the wand. What bounces back should resemble the enchantments on the wand, only... inside-out--" He stopped short, looking unexpectedly sheepish. "The diagnostic spell depends rather heavily on a certain amount of previous familiarity with the spells it might be finding. I hadn't thought of that. If you'll permit me to try it as well, I'll tell you what the pieces are, at least if I'm familiar with them. I'll certainly recognize my own if it's still there; I could do that by holding the wand."

     "You're not going to do anything else to it if I let you, are you?"

     "I wasn't planning on it, as I trust you aren't planning to use it on me again."

     "Last I checked, we aren't at war anymore." Lisha grinned. "Besides, Jeran would lecture me something awful."

     "I'll consider myself under his protection, then." Lord Darigan was smiling, but Lisha rather got the idea that he wouldn't be flitting around Meridell Castle merely on King Skarl's guarantee. "Now, if you want to try the spell first...."

     She did, squinching her eyes shut and biting her lip in concentration. "Um. A lot of dark comes back -- that means a lot of light magic on the wand, since you said it was backwards. Dark in two pieces, and some earth, but it's kind of fuzzy."

     "Earth is fuzzy?" Darigan asked dubiously.

     "Well, you try it."

     He didn't get up, but since Lisha's eyes were open this time, she saw the air waver faintly, something like a heat-mirage mixed with a rainbow, between his hand and the wand. He grimaced slightly, one finger twitching back, and opened his own eyes to give her and the wand a thoughtful look.

     "Well?" she asked a bit impatiently. "What's the matter?"

     "I see what you mean about the earth magic. Very odd. It seems to be blurred through most of the rest -- I'd think an earth faerie had done the enchantments, only they're mostly out of her sphere. The main ones are light and dark, as you say -- and the second piece of dark, out of alignment, is mine. Which raises the question of how exactly you've been using the wand so effectively."

     "I couldn't, at first. It wasn't long after we got here, so I just thought it wasn't working because I didn't know how to use it right. I remember working with it and it felt like...a wall. So I...went around the wall. I'm sorry, I don't know how to explain it very well."

     "That sounds reasonable enough. I didn't intend for you to be able to do that, obviously, but since you did...." He shook his head. "Let me take the spell off, and then... well, take care when you start using it again." Darigan's mouth quirked. "It may take some practice to drop the adjustments you made."

     Lisha sighed. "Not again. I finally had it all figured out!"

     "It really shouldn't be as difficult this time. You know what it's supposed to do; it should be easier to do it now, once you get used to it."

     "I guess so. And at least we're not in the middle of a war right now. No one will notice if I have to practice a little."

     "I should think they'd wonder if you didn't."

     She shrugged. "No one really pays much attention now, but they did when the war was going on."

     "You were a little hard to miss."

     Lisha's mouth quirked. "Well, I had to do something to convince them I belonged here instead of being sent off with the children."

     Darigan managed a sort of half-bow without rising. "Consider me convinced, at any rate. I believe they needed you -- though no doubt they would rather have kept you safe until you'd had more time to learn." He held out his hand. "I'll take the curse off now, if I may."

     With still a hint of reluctance, Lisha handed her wand over. "Be careful with it, please."

     "I'm not going to break it." He crooked a finger over it, and there was a brief flare of deep purple. The wand was still glittering pink and gold when he returned it. "There."

     She barely resisted the urge to hug it against her, trying to act slightly more restrained. "Thank you."

     "Well, I did cause the problem in the first place." Darigan tilted his head, the tip of one ear curling. "Do you have anyone to practice with? I'd suggest very durable targets until you get a feel for how much power to use again."

     "If there was anyone to practice with, I might've been able to figure out this problem sooner," Lisha pointed out. "I'll work something out. I think they have some spare Bullseye targets I could use."

     "Best wishes, then." Darigan nodded to her, then glanced at the sky and unfolded himself from the grass. "And I had best return home; I have work to do. Thank you for the games."

To be continued...

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