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Alyssa couldn’t do anything. The laboratory had a relatively open floor plan. There were tables, but none nearby. She tried to throw herself to the side, but she didn’t go far enough. Subjugation came at her as a wide wave, not a narrow beam. Her hands and knees hit the ground a lot harder than she would have liked. Kasita joined her only moments later.

Though the mimic didn’t stay kneeling for long. Her form shimmered and she was standing again.

Despite trying to get back up as well, Alyssa couldn’t. The spell had locked her knees and arms where they were. Even lifting her head was a strain. “That isn’t the real Irulon,” she said, trying to look up as much as possible. Subjugation kept her only able to look at Oxart’s legs. She couldn’t see if the captain was readying another spell, pulling out her dagger, or just staring. “Kasita! Show her.”

Kasita’s foot lifted off the ground, but she didn’t move forward, putting her foot back right where she had picked it up from. “I don’t want to.”

“What? What do you mean you don’t want to? Where’s Irulon!”

“I don’t want to? I don’t… want…”

Alyssa couldn’t see what Kasita was doing. All she could see were the mimic’s surprisingly modern tennis shoes as they trembled. Kasita picked up a foot, set it back down, picked it up, and put it back down again. Eyes wide, Alyssa stopped fighting against the spell and let her head drop completely.

At her waist, her satchel hung open. The tiny fairy stood outside it, hands on her hips as she looked around the room without a worry showing on her face. Her little glowing eyes found Alyssa’s… and she smirked. The overlarge mouth for her small face twisted up into something Irulon at her most vicious would have found envious.

Adrenaline flooded Alyssa’s system as she smiled—frowned. Her best friend _̵̷̢̀͝_̧͜͜͞_̷̢͘͜_̴͘͢͞͝_̵̸—worst enemy needed help. Alyssa wanted

Get out of my head!

The smile on the fairy’s face vanished as she flinched back as if physically struck. She recovered quick enough, shooting a glare at Alyssa. ~Why won’t you just listen?~ Her lips didn’t move save to form into a pout. The words came as a mild pressure on Alyssa’s mind.

“Let Kasita go,” Alyssa snarled. “Or—”

~Or what?~ the fairy said, smirking again.

Alyssa ground her teeth. What was Oxart doing? With how Oz and his friends had reacted to the fairy, Alyssa had fully expected some deadly spell to have obliterated the tiny being the second she showed her face. But she wasn’t. Ugh. Of course. Alyssa tried to wrench her head up to look at Oxart, but couldn’t make it with Subjugation still in effect.

The action did make the fairy laugh. Tiny little squeaks escaped from her mouth as she spoke. ~Her? The human? She doesn’t want to help you.~

“Why are you doing this? We had a deal. You help me, I help you out of the city.”

The mirth on the fairy’s face died in an instant, replaced with fury. Her fists, each about as big as Alyssa’s littlest finger, shook in rage. ~I will never trust a human I cannot control. You’re just like the others, trying to honey me up until I’m compliant. You thought you had me tamed. But I can see through your lies.~ Her hands slowly unclenched as her smile returned. ~But I don’t need you anymore. Now I have a human to do my bidding. One in a place of power over her peers. She can carry me all the way back home without any other humans getting suspicious and feed the commune for months. Maybe a few of the other humans will want to escort her there. We won’t need to hunt for years!~

That… That could not happen. Why hadn’t anyone mentioned that fairies were cannibals! It seemed like the kind of thing people should bring up. ‘Oh, those tiny things will mind control you and eat you.’ It was so simple! Maybe because it wasn’t technically cannibalism. Lots of monsters probably ate humans. Dragons, draken, and maybe even Rizk’s lizard species.

~But you are just too dangerous to bring back home. If only you would have listened, you could have enjoyed being made into a feast.~

Oxart shifted. Her feet were all Alyssa could see, but she could still feel the air move about and hear the rustling of papers. The captain was probably selecting another spell. One far more dangerous than Subjugation.

“Oxart! You don’t want to do this! It’s a fairy. Fight it!”

~It’s useless.~

Alyssa had to move. She had to get away. The fairy stood to the side, smirk firmly on her face. Kasita was on her other side, still performing the world’s slowest tap dance. There had to be something she could do. She had a whole pocket full of spells. But her hands were locked in place. She couldn’t get to them.

Except, Oz’s friend hadn’t needed to hold or even touch her spells to cast them. If she hadn’t needed to, why did Alyssa? But what spells did she have available? Fireball would just blast a hole in her pocket. In fact, most spells would do something similar. She either needed something that would protect her or would free her from Subjugation. Both maybe.

Projectile Reflection? Would that be in the deck? Alyssa thought hard about casting it, but nothing happened as far as she could tell. No shimmering bubble around herself. But then, the Taker hadn’t had a bubble around him. It might have worked, but it might not have just the same. It wasn’t reliable. Even if it had worked, Oxart might have selected a spell that would bypass any barrier that might have formed.

Something else. Something that would stop whatever Oxart was about to do.

She had to think fast.

It hit her. She knew a spell likely contained within this deck.

Alyssa hated doing this to Kasita again, but she didn’t have a choice!

Desecrate Spells.

The moment the thought crossed her mind, whatever force had been holding Alyssa down vanished with a cutting feeling against her back. The pain made her clench up, wincing as she tried to suppress a shout. Kasita stopped moving, screaming a bloodcurdling scream for a second before her form shimmered. Her legs disappeared, replaced with a small stone. The laboratory darkened as jar after jar of light exploded, sending glass shards around the room. None near Alyssa, thankfully.

The fairy didn’t scream. She stared, eyes wide with fear as she whipped her head around to stare at every exploding jar. That fear, unfortunately, did not lock her in place. Alyssa, free of Subjugation, lashed out and tried to grab the diminutive being around her waist. The fairy moved too quickly, jumping back. She turned and ran further into the room. Her little wings fluttered behind her, but torn up as they were, she didn’t get into the air.

Another scream cascaded off the walls. Not Oxart. The sound was too distant. It wasn’t the fairy either, not unless her tiny body could muster up such a loud noise. It took only a moment to realize just whose voice the scream belonged to.

“Damn it,” Alyssa swore. Back burning from the shallow cut Desecrate Spells had given her as payment for stopping Subjugation, she fished her flashlight from her satchel. She had fifteen minutes. Maybe not even that long. In fact, almost certainly less than fifteen minutes given the effect of Desecrate Spells on magic. Stasis was probably a fair amount of magic at that.

She had to find Irulon.

Luckily, Irulon was making quite the noise. All Alyssa had to do was follow that noise.

Oxart, Alyssa found when she swung the flashlight to where the captain had been standing, was lying flat on her face. A small bit of blood was leaking from the side of her head, but it didn’t look like a very large cut. The fairy must not have put too much magic on her. Good, she would be fine and she wouldn’t move. Alyssa couldn’t spend the time fighting or arguing with the woman at the moment. Not with Irulon crying out in pain.

Alyssa did reach down to pick up the rock that was probably Kasita. It was the least she could do to not leave her behind again. Pocketing the mimic, Alyssa followed Irulon’s voice. The princess wasn’t screaming any longer, but there was a sticky breathing noise coming from the same direction. Back toward the hidden passage that all the Irulons had been hiding inside.

That fairy was still around somewhere. It had run in the opposite direction, but given how small it was, it could easily sneak around in the darkness. With any luck, it would flee and not come back. And if it did come back… Alyssa might have to consider taking Tzheitza’s advice. The thing was too dangerous to let near susceptible people. Though she hadn’t thought Oxart would be so weak minded. Unless it was something else entirely. Perhaps it had just struck out too hard with Alyssa in a panic and desire to escape from its cage, while it had taken more time with Oxart. They had been close together from the moment Alyssa first went up to her until just a moment ago. Questions for later, she supposed. For now…

Irulon was in the hidden room, though it wasn’t so hidden anymore with the bookcase torn off the wall. Alyssa just about tripped over Tess on her way in. No one had bothered to wake the poor servant girl, though maybe that was for the best. If she had been awake, the assassin that had killed the fake Irulons might have killed her as well. As it was, she slept on the floor, chest rising and falling peacefully. She wasn’t even bleeding from Desecrate Spells. Hadn’t the Irulons put her to sleep with magic? Maybe it was some hypnosis.

Something to ask Irulon later.

Less peaceful was the princess. Blood pooled around her at an alarming rate. Before, in stasis, she had only had the few holes in her chest and back. Several lacerations now ran from her shoulders to her wrists. Blood dribbled from the corner of her lips, running down the side of her face. Her black and white eyes flicked to Alyssa as she approached.

“Fool. Desecrate—” Irulon didn’t get further than that, spitting out blood before trying to breathe back in. The wet, labored breath sounded painful all on its own.

“Don’t talk. I have a healing potion.” And I sure hope it works, Alyssa thought as she knelt next to Irulon. Tzheitza had used just a few drops, letting them fall right into her wounds. Mimicking that, Alyssa opened the orb and carefully held it over Irulon. She let just a single drop fall into the largest wound on Irulon’s chest. The way the cap was designed, she needn’t have worried about letting more out than necessary. It was like a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Except healing, instead of burning fire. Hopefully.

Irulon jerked, sucking in a breath that made her start coughing. Pressing a hand down on her to keep her steady, Alyssa let another drop fall over the next largest hole. It took tearing the princess’ dress to get at the other wounds, but it probably wasn’t that big a loss given how ruined it already was. Her body was far more important anyway. Surely a princess had a thousand dresses.

Alyssa continued dripping a single drop into each wound on Irulon’s chest, then moved to her arms. One drop around the elbow was enough to seal the entire wound. It spread down to her wrist and up to her shoulder like some invisible hand drawing up a zipper, sealing the skin on her arms while leaving only a slight blemish behind. A thin pale line on her otherwise dark skin. Alyssa didn’t want to use too much of the extremely rare potion that she had stolen from Tzheitza—just the few drops she had used was about a third of the small orb. At the same time, she didn’t want the princess to die. Surely the royal family would compensate Tzheitza. Taking care to not jolt her much, Alyssa turned Irulon over onto her stomach.

It looked like she wouldn’t need to use more on her back after all. Alyssa ran her fingers over Irulon’s back, trying to wipe away the blood to find the wounds, but couldn’t. There was nothing there but smooth skin. Looking over the princess for any other injuries and finding none, Alyssa breathed out a small sigh. There was nothing more she could do. Closing the healing potion, she replaced it in her satchel. As she did so, she looked down at Irulon’s still black and white eyes. “How are you feeling?”

Irulon opened her mouth, hacked up a congealed wad of blood, then went back to lying on her back in the pool of her still liquid blood. “Like I slipped off my balcony again,” she said with a distinct wheeze. But she smiled and stared right at Alyssa. “I knew you would prove useful.”

Alyssa rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything. Not until she heard a thumping noise from the main laboratory. Snapping her head to the entrance, she swore and reached for her spells.

A hand snapped out, grabbing Alyssa’s wrist. She sucked in her breath, fearing that Irulon had fallen under the fairy’s sway.

“Your hands are bloody. Don’t get it on the cards.”

Alyssa’s breath came out as a sigh as the hand fell away. That was certainly sensible. Couldn’t let the markings get smeared. Though her hands had been fairly bloody while burning herself during her encounter with the Taker. She must have just lucked out then.

“What is out there?”

“A fairy and the Captain of the Northgate Guard.”

“A fairy? What is a— You brought it here?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Just focus on getting better. I need to ensure that Oxart is disarmed. Even if I have to incinerate her entire spell tome and wrap her up in Spectral Chains… Can you resist a fairy if one comes in here?”

“Just who do you think I am? I’d like to see a fairy try.”

Alyssa gave the princess a look before turning back to the doorway. So far, no one had come in. Maybe she should use the time to bind up Irulon as well. For both Alyssa’s and Irulon’s safety. Somehow, she doubted that Irulon would appreciate that. But since she had just saved the princess’ life, she should have some leeway with her actions.

Though… had she truly saved the princess’ life? The timer was still counting down. Alyssa hadn’t really expected it to stop once the crisis passed—it was just the timer app on her phone, not some mystical magic clock—but she worried that fate might twist to conform with Tenebrael’s books. Until the timer had hit zero and then some, Alyssa vowed to stick to Irulon like glue.

“How soon do you think you can move about on your own… or is there still something wrong with you? Do you have some wound I missed?”

“My body has lost a significant amount of blood. I am feeling exceedingly lethargic. Were I to cease maintaining my mental acumen, I imagine that I would fall asleep instantly.”

“But there is nothing wrong with you.”

“Aside from the blood loss, nothing that I can detect.”

That was good, at least. Alyssa bit her lip. Good, but she needed to leave Irulon’s side to find that fairy before it could do anything regretful. Anything more. Ugh. Why couldn’t the stupid fairy have just played nice. Everything would have been so much easier. Now what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t leave Irulon, but she couldn’t leave the fairy on its own. First, she needed to locate the fairy. Something that would be nearly impossible in the dark of the laboratory. Assuming it hadn’t fled the room already.

Kasita could have done it had she not been a rock, her ability to sense things around her was truly amazing. However, even if she wasn’t a rock, the fairy had placed her under its control. For the time being, it was best that Kasita stay as a rock.

Alyssa edged away from Irulon. Not leaving her, just moving closer to the door. She thought to peek around the side, but hesitated. Her flashlight gave away that she was inside the secret room, but shining it into the main room would give away her exact position. If Oxart had gotten back up, it would be the optimal time to release a spell.

“Is there a spell that lets me see in the dark?” Alyssa whispered.

“Yes, but I’m not in any shape to draw—”

“Never mind.” As soon as she posed the question to Irulon, she could see. In fact, she was almost blinded by her own flashlight. One of the spells in the decks she had in her hands must have been night vision. Like Desecrate Spells, she hadn’t needed to actually single it out. Though she would have to be careful. She didn’t want to blow a hole through her hand by thinking about casting the wrong spell. That was possibly the only advantage of having to shout out spell names in order to cast them.

Night vision, as it turned out, wasn’t anything like what Alyssa thought it would be. She had expected some green filter over everything like they had in the movies. Not true. Or rather, Hollywood might have gotten that one correct so far as it applied to Earth and technological night vision. The magic spell was more like normal vision. At least, everything had color to it, though the colors were off. Far more vibrant than she was used to. While her flashlight had been on, her vision might as well have been a white wall. Now that her eyes had adjusted to the… darkness? It was more like looking at Wes Anderson film where all the colors just popped.

Now able to see, Alyssa leaned around the brick wall that separated the hidden room from the rest of the floor. She only glanced for a second, not wanting to get a knife buried in her forehead. But that second was long enough to have a cursory look at the room. There wasn’t any fairy in sight. There were plenty of tables, racks, and debris to hide behind, but Alyssa doubted that the fairy was still in the room. The primary reason she doubted: Oxart wasn’t where she had been lying on the floor. Nor anywhere else in the room.

Alyssa wanted to slam her head into the wall. But that would not be productive. Instead, she returned to Irulon. “We’re safe for this second, I think, but we have problems. Problems that I really could use you on your feet for.”

Irulon didn’t even lift her head to look around. She stared straight at the ceiling as she spoke. “Because you brought a fairy into the palace. Good job with that, by the way.” She paused for a second, but continued speaking before Alyssa could object. “But you think we’re safe. So it escaped. And is likely gathering support to carry out unpleasant acts against us.”

“Yes, sorry. Yes. Yes. No. It told me that it was going to return to its commune. I could be wrong, but I think that is what it is going to do.” If she was wrong, she could be very wrong, given how wrong she had been about the fairy earlier.

“That doesn’t sound like a problem.”

“Well, it’s run off with the Captain of the Northgate Guard. Possibly to eat her.”

“Hm. While I can see some people considering that a problem, you said we have a problem. Not other people have a problem.”

Alyssa’s lips pressed to a thin line. “Ignoring the fact that you are apparently alright with throwing away a loyal member of the city guard, I—”

“Do I have to spell everything out for you? Diplomatically, of course I care about some captain,” Irulon said in a tone of voice that made Alyssa wonder which metaphorical mask the princess had just slid onto her face. “But I’m lying in a lake of my own blood. I’m not in any shape to go gallivanting through the desert to rescue someone. Go tell the city guard or the guild if you think this captain is worth saving.”

“I think she is. Especially because it is my fault she got captured. But… the city guard might be the most immediate problem. She knew Kasita wasn’t you and I think she set up a contingency plan for if she disappeared.”

“And she has disappeared.” Irulon clicked her tongue in annoyance, then turned her head to look directly at Alyssa. The way she moved wasn’t natural at all. It looked as if she put all her effort into just starting to turn her head, but gave up part way, leaving her staring off at an odd angle. Was she really going to be alright? Her eyes were still pitch black but the normally white rings looked more… grey. Or perhaps just dimmer than usual. “Why was the mimic pretending to be me? Or rather, explain everything. I am unaware of anything that occurred since I used Fractal Lock on myself. I’ve pieced together most of what happened, but not all. I had expected one of my contingency plans to inform me of anything I need to know, but seeing as none are around, the task falls to you.”

“Before that, is there a way to ensure that you’re alright? Can we replenish your blood faster or…” Alyssa looked around. Blood was really red with this night vision spell active. “Is there a Draw Water spell that would work on blood? Then we could put all this back inside you…” Would that even work? Hospitals put stored blood into people all the time. This was all Irulon’s blood, so there wouldn’t be any incompatibility with blood types. Assuming a hypothetical Draw Blood spell worked like Draw Water and left behind dirt and other impurities, it should work… right? Alyssa pulled out her phone and glanced at the timer. “I would prefer if you were able bodied for at least the next eight hours.”

“You have your device back. And it tells you something about me.” Irulon grimaced as she tried to sit up, but gave up halfway and let herself fall back into the puddle of blood. “Am I more injured than I think?”

“I… don’t know.” Alyssa bit her lip. Ugh, why couldn’t Tenebrael just pop down here and heal up Irulon if she wanted her to survive so bad. “It told me that you would die a few minutes after exiting your stasis naturally. But I ended it early and healed you so…”

“Interesting. We will discuss that further. For now… Draw a Message spell and contact Donovan of the Northgate Guard. Oxart’s second in command. Alert him to the fact that a fairy is loose with his captain and have him ensure that it leaves the city without being impaired. His guards should clear away from the gate to avoid being caught and dragged out with her.”

A Message! Right. She had forgotten. She could contact Ipo, explain what happened. Maybe he wouldn’t enact whatever contingency plan Oxart had told him about. And she could contact the guild without leaving Irulon’s side… though if she called Oz, she would have to admit that he had been right about the fairy. Which he had been.

He and his friends probably deserved an apology.

Surely the Society of the Burning Shadow had a few Message spells in these decks. Bercilak had used one back on the Overlook. Sure enough, Alyssa found a good ten of them among the cards. She opened her mouth only to hesitate. “Wait, you want Oxart to leave the city? Why not stop her?”

“Fairies are dangerous. Relatively imbecilic, but their power means that they can bumble their way through decimating entire towns. If the fairy is cornered, it may abandon subtlety and start abusing its abilities on anyone nearby. So long as your guess is correct that it wants to escape, it will likely focus on that to the exclusion of all else. We don’t want it to feel trapped.”

Alyssa nodded. That was a good point. If it hid in Oxart’s coat and just started mind controlling everyone it came across, half the city could be under its sway by sunrise. Once it got out of the city, there would be far more space and far less people. It would be easier to deal with.

“After that…” Irulon forced her lips into a strained smile. “I may have some ideas on how to fix myself up faster. Tell me, is Tess still alive?”

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