Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 99,729,623 Issue: 198 | 8th day of Swimming, Y7
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Curses, Inside-Out: Part Two

by schefflera


also by Dreagoddess

High in the tallest tower on the Darigan Citadel, a large window was thrown open to the ragged breeze and patchy sunlight that more and more often made their way through the dark and roiling clouds that tended to shadow Darigan wherever it went. Two figures stood peering out the window, not at the sunlight but down over the city streets.

     "I think, your highness," rumbled Galgarrath, "that as soon as the heating conduits are shored up and reenchanted, we should build a proper reservoir. The temporary one we built when we expected to regain the Golden Orb is likely to give way and flood three neighborhoods if it even holds long enough to fill up in the first place."

     "That definitely won't do." Darigan frowned. "We've had more real rainclouds of late --"

     "That can't last, your highness."

     "Can it not?" Darigan shifted his wings to catch the breeze and looked upward. "I think whatever curses trailing us have begun fading, if slowly."

     "Maybe." Galgarrath considered the clouds himself. "I think the ground's loosening a bit around where you planted Illusen's gift." And a strange gift it was; Illusen had given it after a quest she'd participated in, to retrieve Kass from the realm of the Three. "Still, we can't count on it continuing. Unless maybe the air faeries around here like clockwork toys."

     "No, I didn't mean --" Darigan broke off, thinking, then resumed. "I didn't mean to say we didn't need the reservoir; I was going to ask whether there was any danger of flooding from the rains we've had."

     "I don't think so. What else did you have in mind? I know that look."

     "Merely that it might be worth asking if the air faeries would -- what in all the worlds --"

     Darigan was up and reaching for his staff within heartbeats. Galgarrath already had his sword out and ready to defend his lord. Though...defend against what was the question.

     Everything still seemed peaceful outside. Except for the people running out and looking around in terror, of course. But no enemies were surging out of the sky, no explosions were evident. Darigan frowned for a moment in concentration, then said, "The spells holding the Citadel aloft are still fine. ...The engines?"

     "Still shut down," Galgarrath replied tensely. Kass had kept the Citadel floating far higher than usual, and with little training in magic before the Three had gotten hold of him, had relied on the engines to make up the difference. They had been verging on an utter and very destructive breakdown by the end; if they had failed one by one, the entire structure would have been unbalanced. "We've had other priorities than repairing those."

     "I know that, but they're the only thing I can think of that would make the entire Citadel shake like that!" Darigan snapped, then shook his head abruptly. "I need to get a better look."

     Galgarrath started toward the door. "Then we'll go and -- your highness! I can't follow you if you go out the window!"

     Darigan paused with both hands on the windowsill -- from outside -- and wings beating madly. He wasn't exactly designed to hover. "Come on, then. I'll carry you."

     Galgarrath looked dubious, but let Darigan grip him firmly and take off again. People were milling around beneath them, a worried buzz of conversation reaching them even at a height. Some stopped and pointed as the two flew past, seeming relieved that at least someone was doing something. These people had been through far too much lately.

     Darigan made a wide circle, both watching for any possible sign of the source of the tremors and letting himself be seen, and then broadened it further, diving over the edge and spiraling downward and around.

     This was...puzzling. Extraordinarily puzzling. There didn't seem to be anything wrong. Not with the spells, not with attackers, not with pure natural disaster. Darigan was trying to decide if an earthquake was possible when the earth in question was floating in the air when he saw a curious shape heading towards them. Galgarrath drew his sword, but Darigan called out, "No! They're Meridellians." Hopefully with some kind of explanation. Darigan lifted a hand in greeting, then flew back to the rim of the Citadel to set his general down gratefully.

     Galgarrath braced himself against the continuing tremors, though he didn't sheathe his sword. Just in case, presumably, anything happened. Darigan walked slightly closer to the edge, peering downward at the approaching Meridellians.

     "You think they know something about this, your highness?" Galgarrath asked, still scowling.

     "I hope so." Darigan caught the alarmed look his general threw him and shook his head. "I seriously doubt it's an attack on their part, at this point, and if they can shed any light on the question at all, it will be an improvement." Granted, their information might be alarming -- but at least it would be a start.

     The Citadel had been shaken on several levels; the more violent motion was beginning to die down, but that only made a strange, thrumming vibration Darigan could feel in his bones more prominent. Taking into account recent peace treaties, he forced himself not to flinch as white Unis bore down on his land; taking into account the peculiar behavior of the land in question at the moment, he tried not to take offense when the first Uni to land jumped back off with all four hooves and peered at the vibrating stone with distaste.

     It shook itself all over -- nearly unseating its rider -- and made a second attempt at landing. This attempt was far more successful, and the other Uni quickly followed suit. As soon as their riders had dismounted, however, both Unis darted back up into the air with distrustful glances at the supposedly-solid ground.

     Darigan was not surprised that one of the riders was Sir Jeran. He was slightly surprised that the other was Lisha, and that she looked completely mortified. "It should stop in just a minute," Lisha said hurriedly, looking around her at the shaking city. "I think."

     Galgarrath sheathed his sword, now that he'd had a good look at the new arrivals, and Darigan swallowed the impulse to introduce them upon remembering that they had already met and fought together, when he'd gone mad. "That would be nice." He glanced downward at Meridell, which he thought looked relatively normal. "If you're making predictions, may I hope you have some idea what's going on?"

     Lisha stared at the ground. "I was practicing, like you said to. Not with my wand," she added hastily, "but with the diagnostic spells you showed me. There really wasn't much magic in Meridell to diagnose other than mine, so I tried the Citadel instead. I didn't think it would actually affect anything. You'd said it wouldn't hurt my wand, after all. I'm sorry."

     Utter silence fell after this explanation, as if the entire Citadel had paused to listen. Darigan realized after a second that the actual source of the effect was that the shaking had stopped and his teeth were no longer buzzing. "I wouldn't have expected a diagnostic spell to do that, myself."

     "I didn't either! I guess I didn't do it right. Everything up here looked...weird."

     "That part could be because the spell is really meant for single objects." Darigan turned to Galgarrath. "Would you go and reassure everyone that...." He paused. Announcing that the young Meridellian sorceress had caused the tremors by accident really wasn't that reassuring, particularly since the spell shouldn't really have had quite that effect. "That we aren't about to fall out of the sky, at any rate, and that I'm still looking into what actually happened."

     Galgarrath didn't look terribly pleased, and cast a dark look at Lisha, but apparently he considered Jeran sufficient protection for his lord. He bowed briefly and left to attempt reassurance.

     After he'd left, Lisha said in a very small voice, "I really am sorry. I didn't think it would do that."

          "I really don't think it should have. Can you describe to me exactly what you did, and what you mean by everything having 'looked weird'?"

     "I'd been practicing by putting enchantments on different things and then going back later to detect what was there, but I already knew what everything was so it wasn't really having to figure anything out. I couldn't think of anywhere in Meridell that would have enchantments, so I just thought I would try the Citadel. I didn't even know if it would work so far away, but I just...held up my hand and started feeling for it like you showed me. And then everything looked weird! It was all...fuzzy, like the earth magic on my wand, except everything was like that. And then someone started shouting that the Citadel was shaking and...I stopped."

     Darigan gave her a long look. "This is going to sound wildly irrelevant, but bear with me. What happened when you did practice with your wand?"

     Lisha blinked. "Um. The first time it felt just the same, but then I tried to concentrate on not going around anything... and I, um, I think the Bullseye target I was aiming at vaporized."

     "I think," he said carefully, "that going 'around' the curse on your wand still may have bled off a great deal of the power you were putting into it. The fact that you produced any effect at all, never mind an increasing one, suggests that you grew accustomed to casting very high-powered spells -- possibly to the point of compensating for the wand's function entirely on your own. You might want to try that sometime, in fact; it's useful not to have to be carrying anything." Darigan paced to the edge again, eyeing the distance to the castle. "You may have compensated for the distance by putting an inordinate amount of energy into the spell, which could explain the shaking -- I don't particularly like the idea that the support spells can be destabilized so easily, and there didn't appear to be anything wrong with them, but it has to be considered. The blurring may also be a function of distance, and too much power -- or the size of your target. There's really too much detail in an entire city for that spell; it's no wonder things looked fuzzy."

     "No," Lisha objected, "I didn't mean all the magic was like that. I could see some of the details. I mean, there were some really clear shapes, even though I wasn't sure what they were. The kind of bowl and column-shaped earth and air are the ones to make it float, right?" Darigan gave her a slightly stunned nod, and she plunged on. "But there's this -- this fuzz all through the whole Citadel, and it's made from all six kinds of magic, and there are just hints of shapes in the fuzz but...." She hesitated, taking off her thick glasses and rubbing her eyes. Darigan waited patiently. "I think some of them are bad," she said quietly. "I thought I recognized something when the fire magic came back, and I've been thinking about it, and... it was shaped like a healing spell. Kind of. And, all right, fire reflects the water magic, and water goes with healing spells -- but if the fire is the right way around, then the fuzzy water magic has a, an inside-out healing spell on it...."

     "I think I know all the spells on the Citadel," Darigan said slowly. "I've never perceived anything like that."

     "I'm not just making things up!" Lisha protested hotly. "It was a long way away, but I could still see some things really clearly. I know what I saw!"

     "I didn't suggest you were making it up," Darigan returned a bit sharply, then made a deliberate effort to calm himself. The whole situation was downright strange, but snapping at Lisha wouldn't help. Especially considering he could hardly consult his own old teacher -- Morguss had aligned herself with Kass and now seemed to have disappeared by some more mundane method than being claimed by the Three. Besides, it wasn't as if he could have predicted that the spell she'd tried could do anything but fail under the circumstances. "I believe that you saw what you claim," he said, "but that still leaves some question as to what it was you were seeing. And why you would see it when I did not."

     "...I don't know. I wish I did. I wish you could see it, then you'd know. It's's wrong. I don't want to see it!"

          As her voice rose slightly with distress, Galgarrath was returning to them, having presumably finished spreading the word that there was no imminent destruction involved. He stopped short, looking rather disconcerted. "Dare I ask, your highness?" he asked a bit dryly.

     "Despite the fact that it probably shouldn't have worked effectively at this distance -- never mind causing tremors -- Lisha's spell allowed her to perceive some diffuse magic pervading the Citadel that I've never seen."

     "Mirages, maybe?"

     "Possibly." Darigan nodded to Lisha. "I'd appreciate it if you would come up to my study, though; there are spells intended for analyzing larger areas, and this bears investigation." He glanced back up at Galgarrath. "It sounds as if it's mainly on the order of signature magic, but she thinks she recognized the pattern of an inverted healing spell in it, which suggests a disease or injury curse, and if someone has laid any new ones...."

     "We've been under a curse causing disease for years now," Galgarrath pointed out gruffly. "You never found it."

     "I concluded it had run its course, but left lasting marks...." Darigan trailed off. "You have a point. That was never a satisfactory explanation."

     Lisha chewed on her lip, but seemed at least a little relieved that she wasn't to be blamed for this after all. "Can you see a curse that you're under? Um...I mean, you were cursed too and...well, can you see that?"

     "...Sometimes. Usually, unless it's specified in the curse itself. But there are two ways to cast a long-term spell -- one is to make it continually active; the other is to effect a permanent change and then allow the spell to dissipate. I assumed the latter, especially as our children don't go through the original stages...." He stopped abruptly. "Can you see it?"

     "The curse? Not right now, but I could try another spell..." She gulped. "If you think it won't do anything again!"

     "We can go up to my study first," Darigan said, "and I can show you a variation meant for use on people. It's the same principle -- perhaps," he added reflectively, "I explained it too generally."

     "Well, you were in a hurry to come back up here." Lisha grinned and added, "Once General Galgarrath wasn't going to keep threatening to throw you out the window."

     Galgarrath looked offended. "Your highness, do you have to blame me every time you want to visit Meridell? I only threatened once!"

     "I know, but it was very entertaining." Darigan tried not to smile. "Let's go, then."

To be continued...

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