While Rosaliy was still panicking over the missing divination stone, footsteps padded up the stairs behind her. She barely had the presence of mind to press herself against the wall and let Dalor rush by.
“I don’t remember leaving you open,” he mumbled to the door while pushing his way into his workroom.
He was in too big a hurry to stop to second-guess the careful locking of magical supplies he may or may not have done, so he disappeared into his magical mess. Rosaliy was about to slip closer when she heard raised voices downstairs. She detoured to the stairway.
“The pearl couldn’t just disappear!” Iketa yelled. “What do you mean the pearl disappeared!”
Rosaliy could not hear the response, but what excuse could the poor guard give? The pearl had disappeared in front of his eyes.
Iketa cut him off in the middle of whatever excuse he was mustering up. “Tell Dalor to hurry up on that divination stone and watch out for sabotage. As soon as the night shift arrives, put everyone you have on that room.”
Did Dalor have a way to track the stone now?
The man asked Iketa a question just as a long, trembling shudder cascaded down Rosaliy’s spine. Her ears and the translation magic sloshing around in her body picked out “where” and “going.”
“I’m going to make sure Issabeth can’t use that pearl even if she gets it,” was the answer. Iketa could have made the words, “I’m going to the market to buy cheese” sound threatening, so an actual threat was chilling.
Rosaliy was torn between finding out what Dalor was doing and getting to the palace as quickly as possible. Since Dalor could patch together a plan to locate the divination stone or the pearl at any moment, Rosaliy felt like the frantic escape plan was the smartest. If she could get the pearl to Issabeth before Iketa arrived, Dalor would be no match for the High Sorceress.
Unfortunately, Rosaliy only had a vague idea of the direction of the palace, and it was dark outside. She had to trail Iketa and her bobbing light through the dense jungle, hoping things that liked to nibble on bare toes did not awaken at night.
Iketa burst out onto a main road. Rosaliy’s heart beat faster as she dodged a townsworth of people going about their business. But they were oblivious to the trouble brewing and oblivious to Rosaliy, so the sandy, warm, well-lit streets were welcome to her feet. There was so much disconcerting cheer in the air around her. Hardly two people passed each other without a greeting and short chat about family or how the tweaks to the ice furnace were working out. A few of them tried to greet Iketa, but they were answered with no more than a distracted wave.
Rosaliy wished she had time to learn more about the Flifary. So few people had a chance to visit the mysterious island, and she was standing right here. Sure, conditions were not ideal, but at least she could stare at their dark skin, flaming red hair, and intricately wrapped layers of wispy clothing without being rude since none of them could see her. As reward for her invisible impertinence, she was nearly knocked flat by two women crossing the street with a vat of water between them.
Rosaliy hopped around them and scrambled to keep up with Iketa. By the time they reached a street that would obviously lead to the palace, Rosaliy realized she would never outpace the swift Iketa. Even at a run, she would only reach the palace seconds ahead. Who knew what she would find there? Surprise was Rosaliy’s best defense and weapon at the moment. Iketa was tough, but Rosaliy was invisible. Rosaliy could always tackle her, although she hoped a better plan would present itself before that point.
As they approached, Rosaliy could see more of the sprawling palace through gaps in the lofty trees ahead. Now what? Before she could cobble together a plan to find Drake or storm the prison, Iketa slowed, hearing voices up ahead. Rosaliy heard her own name and snatches of conversation strongly implying Iketa was interrupting a break-out. In hindsight, a warning would have been helpful, but now seemed like the time for a well-placed tackle and some attention-grabbing yells.
Then Iketa lifted a chain from her neck, and the symbol on the stone amulet glittered in the glow of the light she carried.
Rosaliy knew that amulet. When they had unearthed one at Crystal Palace years back, Pepper had been out of sorts for a fortnight. Finally, Athena had found the symbol in a Flifary manuscript and realized the poor cat was bound to the person wearing the amulet—forced to do another’s bidding. Pepper had been so annoyed by the whole ordeal, he sulked for weeks. No wonder these jaguars had been so vicious with Iketa pulling their strings.
As if on cue, the forest around Rosaliy rustled with the summoned animals. Where there had been nothing, now three sets of eyes gleamed from the darkness, and more rustling implied more animals were arriving. Tackling was no longer an option. Rosaliy hurried forward and scanned the crowd in front of the palace: Drake, Daniella, Zaphia, and a woman Rosaliy assumed was the Seer. No Issabeth.
Satisfied with her safety, Iketa surprised the gathering and called in her jaguars. They were pinned in.
Especially in the presence of the Seer, but mostly because the situation called for a rescue, Rosaliy wished she could do something magically impressive right now. Obviously, she had the pearl, but it was no use to her. If she even tried to touch it, she would be zapped. But so would anyone else. Of course!
“Iketa, catch,” she said.
Iketa turned in the direction of the sourceless interruption, and Rosaliy pitched the pearl at her. On instinct, Iketa put up her hands to deflect the pearl. As soon as it touched her skin, the pearl reacted with a bright spark of light and a violent buzzing sound. The shock knocked Iketa off her feet.
“Rosaliy,” exclaimed Zaphia. “Is that you?”
Everyone else was a bit more worried about those jaguars. Ears flat, slinking low to the ground, they made a slow but deliberate approach.
Rosaliy had already dived for Iketa. She grabbed the amulet around the stunned woman’s neck and yanked, breaking the chain. Touching the amulet sent a jagged flutter up Rosaliy’s arm. There was no way she was going to muster enough magical strength to control a pack of jaguars, at least not without doing permanent damage, but she felt confident these normally independent cats would be furious over having been coerced by Iketa for days. Rosaliy flung the amulet out of Iketa’s reach.
Iketa moaned and struggled to sit, aware of her surroundings just in time to see one of her former furry slaves take a leap forward, glowing yellow eyes trained on her. “Stay back,” she demanded, scrambling to recover from her jolt. She grabbed at her chest, but found no amulet. “You’re just going to stand there and let them rip me apart?” she screeched to Arlana.
“You were just a second ago going to tell them to rip us apart,” Zaphia pointed out indignantly.
“Daniella, you can use the amulet,” Rosaliy suggested. It had landed at her feet.
“And?” Daniella’s response was chilly. She made no move for the stone. “The jaguars have the right idea.”
Arlana touched Zaphia on the arm and gestured to the amulet.
The girl squealed with excitement and reached for it.
“Drake,” Rosaliy said, “we need to find Quita.”
“Done,” he replied. “Where are you?” He was soaking wet and glowing faintly. That would make an interesting conversation later.
She would have answered, but at the same moment a cascade of horrible events happened. First, a leaf-wrapped bundle flew past her, shattering with a blast at Arlana’s feet. Blue smoke poured out of the bundle, sucked toward the people and animals in its radius. Second, smoke-wrapped Zaphia froze right in the middle of reaching down for the amulet. In fact, the jaguars stopped, too. The crude but effective paralysis spell had frozen everyone where they stood. Fourth, Dalor stepped out into the torchlight, wearing thick glasses that made his eyes huge and distorted.
Tracing a line only he could see with his hands, he walked up to Daniella. “I’ll take that,” he chuckled with glee, plucking something from her.
Any of this might have mattered to Rosaliy, but she was distracted with her own problems. At the same moment the leaf bomb exploded, she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach by a temperamental cow. She felt a shudder rush through her body—a wave of numbness, nausea, and tingling pains all at once. Maybe the sensations were in different places at the same time. Or maybe she was experiencing these conflicting sensations simultaneously. Whatever was happening, she was on magic overload. Patches of her skin faded in and out of view as visibility rolled back over her body. She could see one arm, then both, then the other, and then she could see nothing, because she was doubled over in pain.
Somewhere in the middle of almost vomiting, she realized she had physically doubled over and physically squeezed her eyes shut. The paralysis spell was not working any more than her other malfunctioning spells.
Dalor was too excited to notice her fading back into view an erratic piece at a time. “We’ve got it, Iketa. Finally, we…” He babbled longer than that, but Rosaliy only picked up Arlana’s name and a stray word or two until his words dissolved into indecipherable sounds. The language spell was as useless as the others. She wished that spell had held out a little longer, because he was clearly making a plan with himself out loud. He took off with purpose soon after.
Rosaliy stumbled after him as he hurried down the side of the palace. He certainly was not heading back to the temple, so where was he going? And why? What did he have in his hands?
He veered off on a rocky path that led up to the mouth of the closest volcano. Dalor clambered up a ladder on the side of a volcano to reach a higher shelf. Rosaliy’s feet objected to her chosen terrain, and she worried about the wisdom of following an enemy into a volcano, but neither comfort nor safety was at the top of her mind. She forced her malfunctioning arms and legs to climb the ladder.
Daniella had found Quita, she realized. Or since she was not looking for the monkey, perhaps Quita found Daniella. Either way, Dalor had been on the hunt for the divination stone back at the temple. His hunt led him to that spot. Rosaliy could not have felt any sicker, but she did in some symbolic way. Dalor was holding the divination stone. She was sure of it. But why was he taking it here, to a volcano? If her head would stop spinning, would any of this make sense?
Dalor had disappeared inside a wide, rocky hole in the ground. She peered down, but hot smoke wafted past, obscuring her view. Coughing, she waved the smoke away to see a crumbling lip of rock dangling above a pool of bubbling orange lava. Dalor was patting a boulder nestled in the side of the volcano.
He caught sight of her, but instead of anger or wariness, he reacted with a wide white-toothed smile and a clap of his hands. He was excited to have someone to share this moment with. Rosaliy was less excited. He cupped his hands around his mouth to holler to her. “You have been a surprising amount of trouble, little Sorceress. What do you think of my magic draining device?” He held out his hands proudly.
Magic draining device? She blinked, trying to focus her eyes. What he was calling his magic draining device was a stone pillar with a divot in the top, forming a tall pedestal. Right now, there was a dark liquid inside the rocky pedestal—a substance to absorb and release power from the look of the set-up. This was a catastrophe waiting to happen, and Rosaliy could only hope she was back at the temple in a magic-overload haze, creating this scenario in a nightmare.
“Dalor,” she yelled, attempting to channel every scrap of authority she could muster into her barely-working voice. “Stop this! What are you thinking?”
He grinned back.
“What good does this do?” she tried again. Obviously intimidation was not the best move when the object of her scolding was older than ten. “How does setting off a magical weapon get you what you want?”
Surprisingly, that question did force a pause. “It’s not a weapon,” he said, apparently hurt she did not appreciate his achievement. “It’s true we don’t have the Naxturaen Queen in place.” He sighed with regret. “But now that we have the divination stone, we’ll be able to make another plan for her. We just need to disable you, first. Well, mainly we need to disable the Seer and the High Sorceress, and Queen Daniella, but you have been troublesome, too.”
If he thought this weapon could kill Katyrinna, it was as powerful as it looked. More stalling was in order.
“Queen Katyrinna will stop you,” Rosaliy promised. “There’s no way she’ll stand for this.” In a few weeks during the next moon cycle. The threat was not hollow, but it was not timely enough to do anyone any good.
“I know,” he agreed, passing something from one hand to the other. “That’s why we were going to bring her here. Am I not being clear?”
“Using her children as bait,” Rosaliy realized out loud. “You were planning to kill children?”
“No, no,” he scoffed. “Of course not. You’ll see.”
One of them was confused. This weapon could not accomplish anything but massive destruction. Unfortunately, Rosaliy was in no position to stop his plans. Dalor shoved his hand onto a deep groove on the side of the boulder. Immediately the liquid in the rock pedestal of sorts glowed—faint at first, then brightening to a deep red.
“Your weapon is going to kill us!” Rosaliy exclaimed. This contraption was directly powered by the divination stone. Even Dalor could not have been this stupid.
“It’s not a weapon!” he snarled. “It absorbs magic, takes it in. You’ll all be powerless—Arlana, the High Sorceress, the Naxturae, Daniella, you—and I’ll have a limitless source of power. It’s brilliant in its simplicity.”
The tall boulder began to vibrate, shaking the liquid on top. Red liquid bubbled, spilling out over the edges.
“If you think you can undo what I’ve started by getting me to talk, you’re too late,” Dalor crowed.
He was right about that, at least.
“I don’t think I can undo anything,” she replied honestly. “I think you’re going to destroy your island—your very magical island.”
“It’s under my control,” Dalor scoffed, gripping the side of the volcano when a particularly violent shake of his boulder threatened to throw him off the rock ledge.
“Oh, really? Where is your control stone? How do you have control of this?”
She hoped her question was rhetorical, because the ground had just started to rumble.
The smile on Dalor’s face grew strained. Rosaliy could have sworn even his spiky fire hair was starting to wilt.
“The—the parts about the control stone were in an old dialect,” he said. “I didn’t know how to make one. Anyway—” He recovered some confidence. “The divination stone will compensate.” His face hardened. “No, you’re just trying to scare me. Her first,” he demanded to the shaking pillar.
The side of the volcano cracked instead, jettisoning lava from the churning pool inside. Rosaliy had to grip the edge of the volcano’s mouth to avoid skittering into that angry lava below. The whole mountain was shaking now.
“Dalor, don’t be an idiot,” Rosaliy called. “You’re going to destroy your island and everyone on it!”
Finally having some inclination she was not bluffing, Dalor decided to grab for the divination stone. He might have been hoping to stop the chain reaction of magical doom he had set in place, but Rosaliy was not going to pretend to be in his head right now.
“Dalor, no!” Rosaliy screeched, but he was blasted back by a shockwave that threw him back onto a rock, bashing his head.
She scrambled down into the mouth of the volcano on instinct. At least the spitting lava was draining down the side of the volcano instead of rising. As she had the thought, the stone shelf under her feet cracked, knocking her sideways. Dalor’s limp body shifted to roll over, and she grabbed him before he tumbled over the edge.
“Wake up,” she demanded, shaking him. “You’re trying very hard to go down with your poorly executed spell, but I will not let you take an entire people with you.”
“I can’t stop it,” he moaned. “It’s too powerful already.”
She believed him. She pulled him to his feet and shoved him toward a rope ladder, ignoring that she could barely keep herself on her feet. “You’re going to climb and think about your poor choices at the same time. Hurry!”
Pieces of the ledge were falling faster than Dalor was climbing, but he only had a few rungs to scale.
“This is what Arlana meant,” he babbled. “She said we were going to destroy everything. I thought she meant social structure or her magic chokehold on us.”
“Nope, she meant your genius weapon with no method of control was going to siphon off power until it destroyed everything.”
“What do we do? What do we do?” he started repeating, shifting into panic.
On one hand, Dalor was suddenly deciding to be compliant. On the other hand, he clearly had no skills to avert this catastrophe and had decided he and Rosaliy were now some sort of nebulous “we.”
“We find Issabeth,” she said, taking on the mantle of “we.”
The mountain split under their feet, and they both skittered down the side, rolling to a stop somewhere near the feet of the gape-mouthed Sorceress they were seeking.
“What is Issabeth supposed to do about this?” exclaimed Issabeth. “Why does everyone wait until the world is ending and then throw up their hands and call in the High Sorceress?”
Although a fair question, Rosaliy was not inclined to discuss that problem.
Issabeth rubbed her shoulder and groaned. “I come outside to find you and get some answers, and I find everybody passed out at the entrance to the palace and the pearl just lying on the ground. And then the ground starts shaking, and…” The volcano interrupted her tirade with another intimidating crack. “What is going on?”
“Dalor has been working on a weapon.” Rosaliy glared at him. “It’s gathering power from the island, but he has no way to direct that power, so it’s just going to keep feeding off the island.”
“Oof,” Issabeth said, her face wrinkling up in disgust. “I do not have time for this.”
Issabeth held out the pearl, and a net of light wrapped around the trembling mountain. For an instant, the net held, but a wall of red pulsed behind it, scarlet cracks lacing through the glowing barrier.
“You’re up against the divination stone,” warned Dalor.
“The divination stone powered by an entire magical island,” Rosaliy added.
“That means nothing to me,” grumbled Issabeth. “At least the ground stopped shaking.”
“Because the weapon is feeding off the pearl’s magic,” Dalor explained. He was right for once. Those red lines were expanding, dissolving the shield of light like acid.
Issabeth rolled the pearl in her palm. “Rose, it’s up to you to come up with a well-reasoned plan that doesn’t make the situation worse.”
“You need to get this weapon off the island,” Rosaliy blurted out.
“Sure,” Issabeth said uncertainly, “but where? Didn’t you just imply it’s going to seek out magic and destroy anything in its path?”
That was a reasonable assumption. The shield had almost dissolved, and the ground was starting to rumble again.
“Somewhere with no magic for it to feed off of.”
“And that would be…?”
Issabeth had a point.
“Wait, the opposite. Send it to the Glade.”
“You think the Glade can contain this? Is it even dark magic?”
“Dark magic is such an ugly term,” Dalor broke in. “Living creatures use up bits of their lives on living every day. Why not magic?”
Dalor needed a three-hour lecture from Sorceress Athena assuming he survived this.
“The Glade has to be able to contain this,” said Rosaliy, “or every living thing on this island is going to be destroyed.”
Issabeth held up the pearl. “High stakes notwithstanding, what if I destroy the Glade?”
That was a distinct possibility. “At least we’ll know we tried?”
“It might work,” agreed Dalor.
“Oh, good, the megalomaniac votes for shipping his weapon to the Glade,” grumbled Issabeth. “Why?”
“The Naxturaen Glade pulls its power from the moon, and this weapon is formed from sun magics,” he said.
“You’re pulling power from the sun?” Rosaliy exclaimed.
Dalor crossed his arms like a sullen child. “None of this would have happened if Arlana hadn’t tried to stop us,” he muttered.
“Rose, translate,” Issabeth demanded.
In a rush, she explained, “The Glade is most powerful at night and this stupidly conceived weapon is the least powerful when the sun is down. Now is our best chance to contain it.”
The light shield was buckling, and lava poured from cracks in the mountain, burning rivulets of destruction. The unstable volcano would be the first thing to erupt, but that would just feed the weapon.
Closing her eyes, Issabeth held out the pearl. She grimaced in pain, and the volcano rumbled in response. “I think I’m making it angry.”
Rosaliy scrambled for a new idea. This was just a big, magical problem with a pesky time crunch she would ignore for now. She loved solving problems. This weapon was feeding off magic. “What if—what if we could remove its fuel instead?”
“Transport the Flifary?” Dalor interpreted. “All of them?”
That was a tall order, but Dalor was thinking too small. Practically everything on Flifary island had some sort of magic of its own—the people, the plants, even the rocks. “All of it,” Rosaliy insisted. “The island. Down to the last rock.”