Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Crown

"What happened, Malexandra?” Anonymous demanded, rushing across the lawn to the dark corner she was standing in. “Don't tell me nothing- something happened, something huge and horrible- I can still feel it."

"Of course something happened, and I wouldn't tell you otherwise, but this is hardly the place. Come with me." Without giving him a chance to respond, she hooked arms with him and began to walk, saying loudly, "I know some people think the Jaelic style is more elegant, but you know how I prefer actual aesthetic beauty over whatever happens to be the style of the hour, surely you agree?" Some of the elegantly dressed people sipping drinks turned to look as they walked past, but there was nothing unusual in her manner. She was speaking in the exact way she did when she really was drunk- she did such a perfect imitation of her intoxicated self that he began to wonder if she really had been under the influence any of the times he'd thought she had been. He wouldn't really be surprised if those times were as fake as this, knowing her.

"I don't give a toss about that kind of thing!" he replied loudly, slurring his words.

"No, but surely even a philistine like you can't find anything to appreciate in it. Even if you don't like the one, anyone must agree that the other is even more undesirable-" They were past the people now, and she abruptly cut off her sentence, let go of his arm, and led him up into the tower.

They climbed the stairs in silence. It was not until she'd led him into the room at the top of the tower, barred the door, and checked under the bed for good measure that she finally returned to their true topic of conversation. "Yes. Something's happened."

He waited just a moment, then said, "I knew that."
"Yes. I'm just not sure how to say it."

That surprised him- he'd never seen her at a loss for words, and could hardly imagine it.

“He used the crown.”

Anonymous paled. “He wouldn’t! And even if for some reason he felt he had to, he’d consult with me first! Malexandra, whatever you think of him, Skyler is a good king and he would not unleash that if it weren’t utterly necessary. And anyway, he couldn’t have used it, he’s on the way to my party!”

Malexandra was unfazed. “What else could have done that, then?”

“Any number of things. The crown’s not the only thing with that much power. It hasn’t been used since Skyler’s great-grandfather’s time, Malexandra, and then only during the worst war the world’s ever seen. We aren’t even at war now. Why would he s use it?”

“Let’s go ask him,” said Malexandra, gesturing towards the window. Anonymous looked out and saw the king approaching the party.

“I will do the talking,” Anonymous told Malexandra firmly as they climbed down the tower stairs. “I have no wish to see you executed.” He knew Malexandra too well to take her silence for consent, but he’d warned her, and he’d try to stop her from saying anything treasonous.

They met King Skyler on the lawn. He was about twenty five, and looked the part of king. Anonymous introduced Malexandra to him. She did not curtsey or bow, but didn’t say anything rude either, which was about as much as Anonymous could hope for.

“I’m pleased to finally meet you in person,” King Skyler said to Malexandra. “Anonymous, how did you do it with the floating lights? It’s a great effect, I might copy it sometime if you don’t mind.”

“We are not here to talk about the decorations,” Malexandra snapped coldly.

“Something’s happened,” Anonymous told the king before he could react to Malexandra.

“He knows,” said Malexandra. To the king, she demanded, “What the hell were you thinking?”

Skyler blinked several times. “I beg your pardon?”

Malexandra merely stared at him, waiting for an explanation.

“It’s about the crown,” Anonymous began, but broke off when Skyler’s expression changed to one of utter shock.

“How did you know?” the king whispered.

“How did we know? How did we know?” Malexandra said angrily. “How can you have expected anyone not to know? Did you really think that you could use that much power and nobody would know?”

Skyler’s expression grew even more shocked. “You mean… you mean it was used?”

“You didn’t know,” Malexandra stated. “But what else could it be? You didn’t use the crown, the Talisman was destroyed, the Locket of Amir is… safe. There isn’t anything else with that much power.”

But Skyler was shaking his head. “I didn’t use the crown. Someone else must have. It was stolen.”

“When?” Anonymous asked him.

“Last week. I was keeping it quiet. I assumed it had been stolen for the jewels; I never thought anyone would use it. Do you have any idea of the destruction it can cause?”

“I was there last time it was used,” Malexandra said.

“But that was a hundred years ago!”

“Yes,” she agreed matter-of-factly. “Have you tried scrying for it?”

“It can’t be scried for,” Anonymous told her. “That way a king can wear it and not be found by enemy magics.”

“Ah. How unscryable is it?”

“We did some experiments a few years ago. It’s beyond my power to find it, or anyone wearing it.”

“Past, present, and future?”

“Um… I only tried finding it in the present. But the past would be no help, and even ordinarily it’s hard to see into the future.”

Malexandra ignored that. “We’ll have to go back to my place, then; there’s too much going on here to do such a delicate spell.”

“I’ve never been to the Magiary,” King Skyler said with interest.

“And you never will,” Malexandra told him.

“I could make you let me in.”

“You could try.”

“You’re right, I couldn’t make you,” he admitted.

“Won’t you need him as a focus?” Anonymous asked.

“Yes,” Malexandra admitted grudgingly, after consideration. “I’ll just get the supplies from home, and find somewhere else to do it.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier to let me in?” the king asked.

“Yes. Look, I’m sure you’re aware that some of the people there are on the wrong side of your laws.”

“Of course. I won’t do anything about it, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Malexandra studied him closely, then nodded, and suddenly they were standing in the room at the top of her tower. As Anonymous and the king got their bearings, she took out a large ceramic bowl and some vials. She poured a shimmery silver liquid into the bowl, then a dark blue liquid that floated above the other. She stirred them together, muttered something over the bowl, and stared into it. After a minute she shook her head and took out a pin. She held it in a lit candle, then handed it to the king.

“A drop of your blood.”

Skyler looked at Anonymous, who nodded. He pricked his finger and allowed a drop of blood to fall into the bowl. Malexandra stared into it again.

Just then, the door opened and a head peaked in. “Malexandra, have you seen—oh.” Aniya stared at the king. She started to duck back out of the room, but Skyler grabbed the door and opened it all the way.

“Aniya,” he said quietly. “It’s been a long time. It’s good to see you again.”

“It would be better to see you again if you hadn’t ordered me killed,” Aniya replied.

Malexandra looked up. “Remember your promise,” she warned Skyler.

“I know. Aniya, I don’t want you dead. We used to be friends, remember?”

“Until you signed a warrant for my execution.”

“No, until you destroyed Majardea’s chance for peace and prosperity!”

“Stop it,” Malexandra ordered. “If I’m going to find something that’s impossible to find, I need to concentrate.”

“What are you looking for?” Aniya asked.

“The crown. It was stolen. And someone used it.”

“Why are you telling her? She’d probably just go and destroy that too!”

Aniya ignored him. “But it’s unscryable.”

“I know! That’s the problem. But really, didn’t you feel that earlier? Anything that unleashes that much energy has to leave some kind of mark. At least if I can find out what’s been destroyed, or will be destroyed I can trace it.”

Aniya frowned. “But you’re not having any luck?”

“I think if I make the spell strong enough, and look into the future rather than the present—”

Aniya interrupted her. “Do you remember the woman who was her for a few days, maybe three weeks ago? Who wanted to learn about getting past magical obstacles?” Malexandra nodded. “Well, she was telling me that her friend had the Mirror of Azerbjingardolinderia… that would be able to find the crown, maybe he’d let us borrow it.”

Anonymous drew in a sharp breath. “That would probably have the capabilities to find it,” he admitted.

“Do you know where to find… what’s her name, Rakayl? Or her friend?” Malexandra asked Aniya.

She nodded. “I’ll go ask them,” Aniya said, and left.

Malexandra tried scrying for it a few more times, then emptied the bowl and put it away. “If Aniya can’t borrow the mirror, we’ll have to get it through nonmagical methods.”

Anonymous and King Skyler agreed, and then the three of them stood around awkwardly. However, by the time Aniya returned three hours later, Malexandra and the king were in the midst of a heated debate, with Anonymous making occasional comments.

They dropped the conversation when Aniya returned, carrying a sack. Out of it she pulled the crown, and handed it to Skyler. “See, I didn’t destroy it,” she said.

“So you were able to scry it and get it back?” Anonymous asked curiously.

“Yes, that is exactly what happened,” Aniya told him, not meeting his gaze.

“Who stole it? And what had it been used to destroy?”

“Just a plantation in Balirmind. It was stolen by a former slave who wanted revenge. You don’t have to worry about it happening again.”

“That’s going to be a lovely diplomatic mess to smooth over,” groaned the king.

“You’ll manage,” Malexandra told him. Once he and Anonymous were gone, she asked Aniya, “What really happened?”

“Well, they didn’t actually need to scry it,” Aniya admitted. “But Rakayl was done with it, so they gave it back to me. Besides for that, it happened exactly as I said.”

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