Rosaliy jerked awake with a gasp. Her heart raced and her palms were clammy. Where was she? She rubbed her eyes and bolted upright.
Her hands were gone.
Her body was gone!
Slowly…slowly…whys drifted back to her.
How long had she been out?
She pressed her invisible hands to the stone wall and clawed her way to her feet. The floor was either gently swaying or she was still woozy. The worst of her potion mixing catastrophe had passed, but she needed to avoid exposure to any more direct magic or she would be useless. Her one strength had been turned into a dangerous drawback.
Light stretched into the hallway from an open doorway. The sun was going down. The whole island would be awake soon, or so she assumed. Her head hurt.
Something rustled in a nearby room. Rosaliy was tempted to hide, but she was already hiding. She froze instead, holding her breath.
“Rosaliy?” called a soft voice. “Are you here?”
Zaphia’s red, feathered head popped into the hallway. “Where are you?” she hissed.
Rosaliy made her way over to the girl. “I’m right here. Don’t panic,” she whispered, placing a hand on Zaphia’s arm.
Zaphia leaped into the hall and spun on her heels—the opposite of calm.
“You can’t see me,” Rosaliy clarified. In hindsight, she should have led with that fact. Her head was still a bit fuzzy.
“I’m glad you’re ok!”
“Where is Drake?”
“Well,” hummed Zaphia. “He went into the prison.”
In? No. This could not be happening. Not now. Not when they had come so far. “They captured him?”
“I’m not sure,” Zaphia admitted. “Probably not. Before he came out, Iketa and Dalor went in, and I thought it was because of him, but it turns out they just wanted— Well, it’s hard to explain. Come and see.”
Zaphia took off, and Rosaliy scrambled to keep up. She nearly stumbled over her own feet a few times, but her head was clearing.
“This is bad,” Zaphia whispered as she tiptoed down the hallway. “Really bad. I think Iketa and Dalor found a way to make the divination room work.”
Rosaliy did remember something about that. Before she could ask any questions, Zaphia hissed, “Quick.”
Zaphia snaked through the dimly lit corridors of the temple, heading for the epicenter of the explosion Rosaliy remembered from her first time here. The outer temple was still orderly, filled with straight lines and dim, mellow corridors. The center of the temple had been that way once, but now it was a crumbling mess of broken rock and hastily-patched walls propped up by driftwood logs and vines holding broken columns together.
Zaphia grabbed a bucket of what looked like wet mud and edged her way toward a buzz of activity spilling out of the divination room. She smeared mud paste on a cracked column, pretending to work. Rosaliy needed no pretense, so she joined the throng. Two guards wedged Daniella between them, blocking the doorway. Rosaliy would have loved to pass her a message, but she had nothing to say, and the guards would have heard her anyway.
Dalor was inside the room stuffed with at least five more serious-looking guards. Rosaliy could see why the extra manpower was needed. Iketa and Sorceress Issabeth were just off to the side. All the cracks in the room had been sealed, so the many occupants were lit only by torchlight, suitably ominous lighting for a nefarious purpose.
“Try anything and I slit your throat,” Iketa threatened Issabeth, digging a knife point into her already-red shoulder.
“Try it,” Issabeth sneered, but her skin was pale, and she was covered in blood. Putting up a fight would be a one-time short-lived effort.
Rosaliy knelt down for a better vantage point between the crook of a guard’s elbow. What was Dalor doing? With the tips of his fingers, he unwrapped strips of leather like peeling a banana. His movements were slow and deliberate, like the object inside was delicate or dangerous. At the first sight of white underneath the protective wrapping, Rosaliy fought back a gasp. She should have given Iketa and Dalor more credit for their ability to improvise.
Layer by layer, the pearl revealed itself, a glossy white sphere. The pearl was the most powerful magical object in the history of magical objects. She almost tried muscling into the room to tackle Dalor, but where would that get her? She could not incapacitate seven guards, Iketa, and Dalor, even if Daniella and Zaphia jumped in to help. While Rosaliy panicked, Dalor slid the pearl into place gingerly on the low table in the middle of the room.
Dalor picked up a glass globe and placed it over the seemingly-dormant pearl, looking hopeful up until it was definitively clear nothing was happening. He locked eyes sheepishly with Iketa. She tossed up her hands in question.
“I think…” stammered Dalor. “I’m pretty sure she has to make it work. It’s connected to her.”
Iketa yanked the glass globe from atop the pearl. “Turn it on,” she ordered Issabeth.
“There is no chance I’m going to do that,” snapped Issabeth.
“The Malum found some way to subvert the pearl, so I’m sure I can, too,” Dalor insisted.
Rosaliy had seen his laboratory, so she was less sure.
“We don’t have time for that,” Iketa snarled. “Every second we operate blind, unanticipated forces are working against us.”
Something like that. Unanticipated forces had no idea what they were supposed to do, but they were going to figure out a brilliant plan any moment now.
Iketa ground her knife into Issabeth’s shoulder, twisting deeper with each word. “Turn. It. On.”
Issabeth made a grab for Iketa, actually getting a hand on her knife before two guards jumped in to pin Issabeth on her knees.
“You want to be difficult?” Iketa smirked, waving to the doorway with two fingers. Daniella’s guards pushed her into the room. “It was so sweet how you risked yourself to save your brother’s daughter. I don’t think I have to tell you the ridiculous lengths you would have gone to to protect those kids. You can understand why we needed you out of the way.”
“Does this have a point?” moaned Issabeth.
“It does.” Iketa twirled her knife in her hands. “I’m betting you won’t sit by and let your mother die.”
“You’re not very good at betting,” Issabeth muttered.
Iketa stared down Daniella now. She sauntered forward to press the point of her knife into the skin of Daniella’s neck.
“Want to play a Flifary game?” Iketa asked, eyes boring into Daniella’s. “It’s called ‘What if?’”
“No,” answered Issabeth.
Iketa was undeterred. “What if I slit her throat right now?”
Issabeth glared back, as much as a woman could glare on the verge of passing out.
“Not going to play?” Iketa pouted. “Dalor, be Issabeth.”
“Hmm,” he considered. “Kill Mom, and you don’t find the Naxturaen kids.”
“Meh, she’s not telling us anyway,” Iketa disregarded. “She’s less dangerous dead.”
“Can’t argue that,” replied Dalor. “Who would have guessed Arlana was desperate enough to get help from an old enemy?”
“She thought Daniella was more clever than us,” Iketa answered, taking a step closer to Daniella so her face was inches away, “but now she’s a clueless, powerless woman. It’s almost pointless to have to kill her, since she’s basically an innocent nobody. Not something I would think a Sorceress would want on her conscience.” She tipped her head toward Issabeth who rolled her eyes.
Iketa stepped back. “So, I’ve killed Daniella. Hmm…what next? What if I killed the Sorceress?” She spun toward Issabeth. “Who controls the pearl then?”
It would go dormant. That was one of the main reasons the Malum had left Sorceress Athena alive when they had stolen the pearl years ago.
“Nothing?” Iketa chuckled at Issabeth. “I guess it was a rhetorical question. Naxturaen magic doesn’t play nicely when it’s severed. Oh, here’s one—what if I stab Daniella in the heart, and give Issabeth the choice to use the pearl to heal her after activating the divination room.”
“If the pearl doesn’t activate the divination room after all, poor Daniella is going to die,” said Dalor with fake concern.
“I’m willing to take that chance,” said Iketa brightly. “Is Issabeth?”
“Only one way to know the future.” Dalor chuckled at his own joke.
“That is a good point, Dalor,” said Iketa. “So’s this.” She turned the knife back on Daniella.
“Stop,” Issabeth spat out.
“Stop what?” Iketa said with glee.
“The horrible jokes,” answered Issabeth. “You are like spoiled children with a new toy. And you’re not killing anyone.”
“Don’t,” warned Daniella. “This is more important than me.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to,” complained Issabeth, “except I have to do the opposite of what you say, don’t I? And even if you knew that, I get the feeling you’re being all self-sacrificing right now. If I just sat here and let you be killed, I’d be the monster, wouldn’t I? You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Hurry up, Sorceress,” barked Iketa. “Stop stalling.”
Iketa pointed her knife toward the guards holding Issabeth and flicked the point of the blade toward the pearl. They dragged the Sorceress to her feet and over to the pearl. Issabeth hesitated for a moment, likely deciding whether or not to bring the temple down on top of them. Unfortunately, that was guaranteed disaster, and turning on the room was just an uncertain disaster. She did not have much of a choice.
“I hope you blow yourselves up,” grumbled Issabeth, placing her hand on the pearl on the pedestal in the middle of the room. “Turn their room on.”
The pearl glowed in response, casting, white, drifting light on the walls of the scarred stone room.
“Yes,” Dalor practically squealed, so close to the glass ball, he looked like he was hugging it. “Look at those lines. It’s working. Put out the torches! Out! Out! Everyone out!”
Guards pushed out of the room, happy to get away from the manic magician. Iketa barked orders to have Issabeth and Daniella taken back to the prison. Zaphia had slipped behind a pillar and out of sight. Everything was happening so fast.
“Zaphia,” Rosaliy whispered. “You have to get Drake.”
“What are you going to do?”
Rosaliy had no idea.
“I’ll find out what they’re going to do next and stop the pearl somehow.”
That sounded good, anyway. Zaphia dashed out after the guards, keeping herself out of sight.
Rosaliy was left with Iketa, Dalor, and a single guard outside the door. Dalor was touching the ball, moving his fingertips in and out, tracing lines he saw inside. Iketa was less enthusiastic.
“What is this?” asked Iketa, pointing.
“Everyone’s lifelines,” chirped Dalor, “all intertwined. It’s looking at everyone all at once. It needs to be focused. There’s you, see?”
Iketa traced the ball with her finger, peering inside at whatever she could see. Rosaliy could see only white glowing patches drifting across the walls.
“Why is this blurry?” asked Iketa. “These lines all melt into each other.”
“That’s the future. I don’t think it’s supposed to be doing that. Nothing is…clear,” he muttered, squinting like that would bring the future into focus. “Oh…” he said, sheepishly. “It looks like we can only see past events.”
“The past,” cried Iketa. “What farce is this?”
“We replaced the divination stone with another power source,” Dalor sighed. “It’s not…well…divinating.”
“Then it’s no use?”
“Well, we can see past events.”
“You said that already.”
“It’s still true.”
“What good does that do us?” Iketa snapped.
“We use it to find the divination stone,” Dalor promised. “Show me Arlana.” The globe brightened. Iketa and Dalor bent in.
“There!” Iketa exclaimed. “She grabbed it just before she destroyed the temple.”
“And she said she destroyed it,” scoffed Dalor. “I knew that was impossible. She would never—”
“Shush. Where is that?”
“Ack,” spat Iketa. “Seconds before we caught her. It was in the stupid tree the whole time. And here I thought she opened a portal or buried it underground.”
Dalor agreed he was underwhelmed, but they were both excited as they scampered off to find that stone.
Rosaliy had failed. Or at least failure was so imminent there seemed no hope of veering off on a path that did not end in failure. When the Flifary found the stone, they would see everything—every move she might make. With these people controlling the future, there was no hope.
Rosaliy took a deep breath. She could not afford to think that way. First, she would go in and steal the pearl. Then she would free Issabeth. It would take Iketa and Dalor time to untangle all those lines, she imagined, and see what their enemies were going to do. There was still time. Just a little bit of time. Rosaliy slipped past the lone guard. The room was eerily beautiful. Glowing clouds drifted around the walls, occasionally melting into shapes that were almost recognizable. One of those shapes became a frog that leaped across the doorway. A frog. That reminded her. This might be her one chance to know what Daniella had done with the children.
Could she handle this much magic? Had she not just promised herself she would stay away from magic like a sane person?
“Show me Daniella,” she whispered, barely breathing the words.
She felt the globe pull at her, making her stomach turn. The globe flew from line to line so fast, Rosaliy could hardly recognize the miniature scenes. She saw a tiny Katyrinna and Issabeth. She saw red-cloaked soldiers, and she saw a flicker of Alexander, all intertwined with a fuzzy white line. Rosaliy thought she caught a few glimpses of a smudged Daniella, but eventually the globe settled on a fuzzy, white haze. Either Rosaliy was not able to make the seeing globe work or Daniella had erased herself.
Of course she had erased herself, Rosaliy realized. No wonder the woman had no memories. The children were only in danger of that divination stone. She needed to hurry.
Rosaliy silently lifted the glass globe from the pedestal. She picked up Dalor’s leather wrapping and covered the glowing white orb with it, being careful not to touch the pearl when she scooped it up. Noticing the lack of light, the guard peered into the dark room, blocking her exit.
Rosaliy pushed the globe off the table, smashing it against the wall.
The guard rushed into the room now, spear ready. He came to investigate the pedestal and Rosaliy darted around him. She dashed outside, trying to ignore that her legs felt like paper, about to crumple underneath her.
Dalor and Iketa had procured a rickety ladder to climb a banana tree. Dalor was rooting around in the leaves while Iketa held the ladder steady.
“I’m telling you, it’s not here,” hollered Dalor.
Not there? Rosaliy froze, heart pounding and paper legs swaying.
“What do you mean it’s not there,” Iketa yelled back. “It’s there. We saw her put it there.”
“Somebody else must have taken it.”
“If somebody else took it,” Iketa argued, “they would have given it to us or used it against us. It’s there!”
“It’s not here!” Dalor disagreed again.
Not there. Not in that banana tree next to the temple. Where Arlana had hidden a disguised stone. Because somebody had taken it. Rosaliy’s thoughts churned, clearing for the briefest of moments.
The divination stone was sleeping upstairs in a satchel.
She sped back into the temple, up stairs, and to the hallway growing darker now that the sun had fallen. She saw the bag in the hallway and breathed a shaky sigh of relief, until she noticed the top was flipped open and the scarf was spilling out onto the floor. Quita was gone.
Rosaliy dug everything out of the satchel and flipped it inside out, patting the floor around the bag for good measure. Arlana had disguised the stone and put it in the banana tree. A curious Quita must have found it rooting through the bananas. The tiny monkey might grow tired of the stone and drop it anywhere, but, knowing Quita, she would hang on to her mysterious invisible lump forever. Rosaliy had to find her first.
From the (usually) rainy Pacific Northwest. Enjoys writing words! Some of them are in books: http://a.co/6gMNgIB
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