Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 193,743,981 Issue: 711 | 18th day of Celebrating, Y17
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Duplicity: Part Two


by likelife96

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      The throwing knife scraped Lisha’s dress. She’d barely moved out of the way in time.

      Without a second thought, Lisha gripped her wand of ultranova and swung it in the direction of her assailant, sending a powerful pulse through the air. The purple Nimmo was pushed from the bushes into the wall.

      Lisha felt her lungs grow colder. Her quick move was very inefficient and had used much more magic than necessary. The Nimmo she had hit fell to the ground, motionless on impact, and looking much worse for wear. She ran to him and took a closer look, just to check if he was okay.

      He wore a dark shade of blue, like the night sky. On his belt hung a variety of tools: a grappling hook, lock picks, daggers, and a small trinket shaped like a Xweetok’s skull. Around it shined a stable, golden halo, the textbook image of a light faerie aura. Just looking at it made her dizzy.

      Was he planning on mesmerizing me?

      When his eyes fluttered open, the Nimmo flipped back on his feet and threw another knife at Lisha. This time, she was more than prepared. Lisha put up a small shield, and the knife bounced harmlessly away. As soon as she had stopped putting energy into the shield, she found her attacker lunging toward her with his dagger.

      Adrenaline shot through her veins as she slid back, throwing herself off-balance. Her fighting skill was too untrained to become second nature, and the logical part of her brain knew she could not even hope to go toe-to-toe with anyone skilled for more than a few moments, not without getting seriously hurt.

      She dodged another slice of the Nimmo’s dagger by sliding to the side. She fell to the ground, her dress sticking to the muddy earth below. If she didn’t do something, right now, her assailant could easily finish her off.

      Desperately, Lisha drew a quick rune in the air, visualizing images of snow and cold. At her command, ice sprung from the ground and wrapped around the Nimmo assassin, sticking him nicely in place. As she sat up, Lisha slowly brought up her arm to grow the ice until it enveloped the assassin entirely, save for his head.

      He tried wriggling himself out to no avail. The danger was safely contained, and there was nothing to fear. Lisha stood, scowling at the mud creeping into her shoes with a swish. As far as assassination attempts went, it wasn’t so bad.

      Or, at least, this was probably an attempt at assassination. She didn’t think she’d angered anyone enough for it to be anything else. The reason for assassination wasn’t immediately obvious, but it probably had something to do with her being Jeran’s sister. As to who would attempt such a thing, it was probably some disgruntled lord or scheming noble.

      “You know,” she said flatly, “murder is very rude. If you want my advice, you shouldn’t do it.”

      The Nimmo threw his head back and laughed. Nervousness crept up in his voice, and soon his laughter began to resemble loud weeping. But when Lisha saw his face clearly again, he donned a wide grin. She tried to prevent her unease from visibly showing itself and crossed her arms.

      “Foolish, weak girl,” he spat. “You understand little, very little, just like your brother. Sir Borodere has no right to rule Meridell—none at all, and we will prove that tonight.”

      Tonight? We? That assassin wasn’t alone, not at all. There were other targets here; Lisha was only one of them. Jeran himself would undoubtedly be another. She had to do something, warn the guard.

      Lisha ran to the exit of the courtyard, a small, wooden door leading into the castle. She twisted the doorknob, which absolutely refused to budge. Normally, Lisha would try to slam the door to get someone’s attention, but she didn’t have that time now.

      Pointing her wand at the door, Lisha concentrated her energy into a dense ball of heat. When she let go, it exploded, taking out the door with it. She hurried inside, going to the general direction of the old throne room, where the ball was held.

      In the span of a minute, she’d found a Draik guard stationed near the crystal-bordered entrance. His weapons were loose in his grasp. His shield had fallen to his feet.

      “Guard,” Lisha said, “I think there’s a breach in the castle. Pick up your weapons and alert—”

      “Yes, ma’am, sure, the ball is really quite enjoyable,” he replied with a big, unseeing smile. “How can I help you today?”

      He was charmed, wasn’t he? To test her theory, Lisha tapped him right between his eyes, and when the guard did not react, she groaned. “Apparently, you can’t help me at all,” Lisha muttered as she slammed the door to the throne room open.

      Everyone was standing still, with the same empty stare as the guard. They exchanged robotic, generic lines with each other in a constant, looping cycle. Some struggled to break free of the charm. Lord Darigan gripped his head even as he droned on to the Neopians around him. Danner and Gvorath’s eyes constantly shifted around the room.

      Jeran himself staggered around at the east edge of the hall, leaning on anything he could. Lisha needed to break the charm, but without knowing its source she could do nothing. Instead, she prepared herself to deal any attackers.

      Three green Draiks burst through the long stained-glass windows lining the walls. One nocked his arrow and started to aim at Jeran. Lisha quickly repelled him with a narrow, efficient pulse. The remaining two Draiks flew at him with longswords.

      Lisha managed to land a shot at one, but the other still had free reign to do whatever he wanted. Her hands stumbled as she stuttered out an incantation, knowing full well it would be too late.

      A loud, brilliant voice echoed from the middle of the room: “Time out!”

      The Draik stopped moving. He was suspended in the air, frozen in time at the exact moment he was to strike at Jeran. In the center of the room, Lisha saw Lissandre with her arms outstretched in front of her, as though she’d just closed a door.

      Lisha tried saying something, but found that the movements of her jaw gradually slowed to a halt. Her own thoughts ceased to renew themselves.

      “Sorry, Lady Lisha, but I couldn’t quite make this spell that specific,” said Lissandre. “And I don’t have that much time.”

      She shook her head and considered her surroundings. The three Draiks were plenty dangerous enough, but assassination plans, especially ones as brazen as this, rarely aimed for just one target. Lisha looked like she’d been involved in quite a kerfuffle herself.

      A green Ixi servant clutching a jagged dagger beneath his robes proved Lissandre’s suspicions correct. He was eying Prince Rafael, frozen in the middle of an argument with a knight. Another careful examination revealed a Gnorbu dressed as a Brightvale University scholar. The golden accents of his robes were faded and dirty.

      Around the yellow Gnorbu’s neck hung an emerald amulet with a stylized sun curled around it like a claw. A pulsating golden aura shined from it, and it was warm when Lissandre touched it. A dull pain radiated around her head and the world blurred for a few moments, but those sensations quickly subsided.

      The aura expanded and contracted with Lissandre’s breathing. All it took for her to dissipate its magic was to imagine the aura disappearing like particles scattering to the wind.

      She delivered a soft push to the Ixi servant near Prince Rafael, a force which would normally be inconsequential. In real time, however, that force would come quite quickly, enough to at least make him fall. As for the Draik hovering over Jeran, Lissandre removed the sword from his hands and placed it on the ground.

      At the corner of her vision, the Draik’s head turned to his now-missing weapon ever so slightly. The fabric of a nearby dress started to flutter with its owner’s movement. Slow, distorted drones of sound reached Lissandre’s ears.

      Lissandre headed back to the exact same location she was before she had closed the gates of time and barred its flow. She waited for time to take hold on everybody again. What she had just done would look like nothing more than a series of happy accidents to everybody except Lisha Borodere, who was actually lucid just before the spell took hold. That . . . might have been an awkward complication.

      “Time in,” whispered Lissandre.

      As the spell wore off, the ball’s attendees took some time to reacquaint themselves with their surroundings, some faster than others. The Draik attacking Jeran lost focus and stumbled in the air. Jeran, on the other hand, regained his focus quickly enough to grab one of his attacker’s legs and pull him down.

      The Ixi servant fell forwards onto Prince Rafael, his dagger clattering away over the marble floor, prompting a wave of gasps nearby. Danner yelled some orders to the present guards, and Lord Darigan flew up to stop the escape of the other two disoriented Draiks.

      A word barely escaped Lisha’s mouth as all this took place before her. Her mind took a few moments to process what had just went on, and less importantly, how it went on. Did that fairly new Brightvalian scholar actually manage to stop time?

      Jeran picked up the sword Lissandre had placed on the floor and pointed it toward his assailant. The Draik could not move his head an inch without grazing it, but that did not stop him from trying to sweep his legs under Jeran’s in an attempt to trip him. Jeran simply stepped over the sweep.

      “What is the meaning of this?” shouted Prince Rafael, rising from the ground and wiping off dust from his regalia.

      Chatter erupted from the crowd of attendees. Guards rushed in to deal with the assassins, excusing themselves for every minor lord or duke they pushed aside. The one closest to Jeran was already bound in chains before the guards even reached the others.

      Another guard blocked the exit, preventing the Gnorbu from leaving. A Brightvalian scholar nearby grabbed his amulet and examined it, coming to the correct conclusion that it was used to cast a mesmerizing charm.

      Jeran spotted Lisha in the distance, her dress reduced to patchwork of torn, muddy pieces of fabric. A bruise formed a large, blue spot down her cheek. Eyes widening, he came for her as soon as time would allow.

      “What happened to you?” he asked.

      Lisha blinked and waited before responding. It was perhaps for the best to cushion the incident in the courtyard with a little white lie so as to not worry him. “I tripped.”

      Jeran furrowed his eyebrows. “That’s really the explanation you’re going for.”

      “What? It was a particularly bad fall, that’s all, and nothing compared to what almost happened to you.”

      What almost happened to you. Lisha couldn’t bring herself to even imagine it, to remember the few dark hours after the war when she really thought he did perish. Jeran was her only family, the Neopian she trusted most. Sure, she had friends, very good friends, in fact, but none of them could trump him. She tried to hold back the tears welling in her eyes.

      Psellia had saved Jeran from the fall, and it appeared a similar miraculous act had saved him again.

      “It’s all right, Lisha,” said Jeran, taking her in a short hug. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

      Lisha let a few tears escape and nodded. Jeran had been in plenty life-or-death situations before. This feeling was nothing new, but it had rarely been this visceral.

      “Jeran,” came Danner’s voice, “the guards are conducting a thorough examination of the premises, and, uh, the boys found another one, a Nimmo in the courtyard. Not much of a threat though, he kind of got frozen in ice.”

      Lisha expected her brother to chastise her over lying, but instead, he put a paw on her shoulder and gave her a solemn look. He turned to Danner. “I see. Very interesting. Listen, Lisha and I are kind of sorting something out. Now’s not exactly the best time.”

      “It’s not worth it,” said Lisha. “Just go and do what you need to do. The last thing you need is me distracting you from your duties.”

      “Well, comforting my little sister is part of what I need to do. I know you need to talk. I can afford to lose a few minutes, even an hour.”

      A million more objections sprung to mind, but Lisha couldn’t articulate any of them, so instead she settled on a smile and a “thank you.”

      “Right, I’ll give you two a few minutes, then,” said Danner. “The balcony down the hall is pretty clear of threats now, so I recommend you spend your time there, but not too much time. I need you two here.”

      “I’m not on a your-needs basis, Danner,” replied Jeran as he left with his sister. “Remember, I’m prince-regent. You have no place telling me what to do.”

      To be continued…

 
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