The Traitor: Part Seven
It all made a prodigious amount of sense, Lockwood thought wearily. All the production over going to see Lisha had been a diversion; the intention had been to distract him from the fact that she was not actually there. They had very nearly gotten away with it, too.
And now – he could leave this place in a matter of seconds, but upon the whole he did not think he dared. He had no way of knowing that Lisha’s life was not at stake, and he was on his last strike; he seriously doubted that Mr. Tricks would be at all lenient if he attempted and failed to escape.
He stared blankly at the piece of paper he was supposed to decipher. In his present state the magical script made less sense than ever, and for a moment or two he was sorely tempted to tear it to shreds and forget about it; but he knew that he could not. Instead he took up a pen and began the thankless, arduous task of breaking the spell down into components that he could manage without really understanding them at all. His wrist, however, was by now so stiff and painful that he gave up quite soon, finding it next to impossible to write for any length of time.
“What do I care?” he muttered, half-involuntarily. He chuckled a little to himself; it really could hardly matter to him whether the spell turned out as it was meant to or not. In fact he rather hoped that something would go terribly, disastrously wrong.
He performed the necessary magic and fell into a deep, uncomfortable sleep.
“Well, it looks as though you’ll live to see another day.”
“What?” groaned Lockwood, rolling over and shielding his eyes in an effort to appease his splitting headache.
It took him a moment to understand that Regan was speaking to him. “Get up. Mr. Tricks wants another spell done.”
“I would be excessively sorry to disoblige Mr. Tricks, but I really don’t think...”
She snatched away his pillow. “Listen,” she hissed into his ear. “I don’t intend to get in trouble over you. Just get up and do it.”
Still somewhat dazed, Lockwood managed to pull himself into an upright position and take the piece of paper Regan was holding out to him.
“According to Mr. Tricks, it’s shorter and easier than the rest,” she reported. “On the other hand, he wants it done in half an hour.”
“Perhaps you would be so good as to tell Mr. Tricks that eventually my store of magic will run out.”
“You’d better hope it doesn’t.”
“It is not exactly something I can prevent,” he replied icily.
She shrugged and sat down; after a moment she spoke again, with a touch of agitation in her voice. “Are you – going to do it now?”
“I suppose given my time limit it would be an excellent idea to try,” was Lockwood’s dry response. Perceiving her hesitation, he raised an eyebrow. “Is there anything I can do for you before I begin?”
“No, it’s just – well. Do you mind if I... stay here?”
“Why should I?” he inquired in the greatest possible astonishment.
“Well, I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone do magic before.”
He smiled his slight, ironic smile. “Haven’t you really? I am afraid you will find it altogether very disappointing; but you are certainly welcome to watch.”
With a sigh he studied the paper and determined that this was, indeed, a much simpler spell than the others had been – although still he could not quite grasp its purpose. His best guess was that it might be some sort of ward.
As he cast the spell he could feel his magic straining; he realized for the first time that the sorcery he had been performing was very likely of a semi-permanent nature, sapping his strength continuously until he let it go. It was not something he had considered before. Perhaps this was part of their plan, to wear him down until he simply had no energy left.
If he ever wished to escape, he was going to have to do it fairly soon.
He was quite absorbed until he finished, and he had nearly forgotten that Regan was still in the room with him. She was shivering; he noticed with some surprise that he could see his breath in front of him. He wondered if he dared risk a warming spell, or whether even that would alert and annoy his captors.
In a sudden flash of inspiration he stood and went over to the desk; on its frosty surface he traced the words How closely are they watching us?
Regan stared. “They can’t hear us if we talk quietly enough,” she told him softly. “But what use is it anyway? You don’t think I’m going to help you escape, do you?”
“I think you might be wise to consider it. Where are they keeping Lisha?”
“Lisha?” she echoed blankly; then, perhaps owing to Lockwood’s seriously unpleasant expression, evidently decided to elaborate. “Wasn’t that a famous witch in the Meridellian wars? – No, please!” she cried as he advanced toward her. “I really don’t know anything else about her!”
“Is that so?” he snapped, but he saw to his excessive irritation that she was telling the truth.
“Is that why you’re staying here?” she whispered. “I was under the impression you just couldn’t get out –”
“I am perfectly able to leave this place alone, but I would really prefer to do it with Meridell’s premiere sorceress. And what,” he added suspiciously, “are you doing here? Perhaps I am of a rather over-cautious nature myself, but I would not be inclined to let my maid chat with my prisoner.”
“Oh, I’m not double-crossing you,” she muttered. “How I wish I was. Listen, I want to get out of here as much as you do. Do you suppose I enjoy it here?”
“I suppose not.”
“Well then you are correct. I’d better go now, but I’ll keep an ear out for any mention of your friend.”
“Very well,” he agreed, still unconvinced. As it so happened he had the glimmering of an idea himself; but he had no wish to share it with anyone he could not trust wholly and completely, and Regan certainly did not fit under that category.
He waited for several minutes after she had left, wondering and doubting, uncertain of his own nerve. If he executed the plan he was considering, there would be no turning back. It was final, non-negotiable.
Quite suddenly, at this entirely inopportune moment, Lockwood remembered where he had heard the name Mr. Tricks. It was too strange by far to be coincidence – or was it? Lisha had proposed naming the Snowbunny Mr. Tricks... It should be something appropriate, she had said of the name. Why in the world would Mr. Tricks be an appropriate name for anything?
But that was hardly important at the moment. Instead he crossed his arms, faced the door, and called, “Mr. Duplicity! You too, Mr. Tricks! Why don’t you come in here? I have something of a great deal of interest to tell you; and there is no need to pretend you can’t hear me.”
After several tense moments, Mr. Duplicity slipped into the room. “Well? What is it, my dear Mr. Lockwood? I do hope you called me in here for a bit more than exchanging a few words...”
“I would like to speak with Mr. Tricks as well,” he repeated stonily, “on a matter of great importance to us all.”
“He will have to be fetched, Mr. Lockwood, and I will not answer for his pleasure at being interrupted...”
“Nevertheless I would like to speak to you both.”
The Krawk shrugged and slithered out again, leaving Lockwood to shiver at the sheer risk of what he was about to do.
It was quite a long time before Mr. Tricks entered – long enough to make Lockwood considerably uneasy; and when he did arrive, he did not appear at all pleased.
“This had better be very important, if you get my drift,” snarled the Eyrie.
“Oh yes,” Lockwood assured him, and without warning the shadows detached themselves from the walls to wrap inexorably around Mr. Duplicity and Mr. Tricks, drawing them both to Lockwood. Tendrils of darkness bound them tightly together, freezing them to the very core and draining their energy with supernatural strength.
It all happened so quickly that they had only time to stare at him in pure, unadulterated, horrified astonishment.
A semi-transparent, icy ward sprang up around the three of them, blocking the way of anyone who might attempt to come to their rescue. Lockwood stepped forward.
“Now, Mr. Tricks – Mr. Duplicity – let me share my terms with you. I am going to leave and there is, I am afraid, very little you can do about it. If you would prefer that I leave you here alive, you will have your friends bring Lisha to me.”
“And if we refuse?” growled Mr. Tricks.
“I believe I may safely leave that to your imagination. And I am afraid these terms are really quite non-negotiable.” Lockwood smiled. “My turn, Mr. Tricks.”
To be continued...