Untitled and Unfinished, Ch. 6
I kneel down and shake the unconscious knight, but he doesn’t respond. At least he doesn’t look like he’s in any danger of getting worse. Even so, all I can do is lean back a bit and shake my head. “This isn’t good.”
A few seconds later, and Jason suddenly pipes up, “He’s not the only one.”
Looking up shows me exactly what he’s talking about: more hedges out of place, and the shine of armor next to them. A thought in the back of my head can’t help but chastise whoever did this for choosing such lousy hiding places, but I’m more worried about what this means for everyone inside the castle. Heck, what does the courtyard look like right now?
After rising to my feet, I rush to find some kind of opening in the hedges. A split second jog brings me to a couple that have fallen over, one on either side of the fence. It’s as good of a view as any into the courtyard—and that’s when I see it.
The ground is mostly flat grass with stone walkways leading in the four cardinal directions. In the middle of them is an elaborate fountain topped with a vaguely bird-shaped tree, and scattered around it are trees with leaves whose colors range from green to brown, red to pink, and orange to yellow. The scenery would’ve looked absolutely breathtaking if not for the patches of dug-out dirt and more scattered but unconscious knights.
How has a commotion this large not been noticed by anyone outside? Or maybe it has and I’m just not in the best place to see it. Maybe we’ll see as soon as we get to the bottom of this. That’s what I hope, anyway.
Behind me, I can hear Jason asking a question: “Do you see any sign of anyone we may know?”
Erika’s the one who answers. “No. I don’t see the commander or the rest of her group. Don’t see Princess Vivian, either. Melinda and Donovan went around the fountain just a few seconds ago. More importantly, I don’t see who could’ve done this.”
I whip around, drawing the trio’s attention to me. “We have to get inside the castle. Someone’s moving fast, and help might not come if people are dropping this fast. Come on!”
Jason promptly takes the lead, but Erika, Franco, and I are close behind him. We meet up with Melinda and Donovan, but the two Redford Guards insist on investigating around a little longer. This leads into their giving us the go-ahead to sneak into the castle. The really huge castle. The huge castle with at least one maniac running around in it. Man, what I wouldn’t give for some indication on where the perpetrator is!
As if on some invisible cue I’ve triggered, a rumble from the castle’s second floor causes us all to look up. Then we look at each other. That one moment is all we need to agree on abandoning the plan we just thought of, and we rush in.
Being the more experienced combatants, Donovan and Melinda take point. Jason and Erika are right behind them, followed by Franco and me. I’m not sure I really want to be the rearguard of our group right now, but I don’t have a chance to change my mind.
We go into the castle from a hallway lined with tall, thick marble columns. Right away, we rush over to hide behind the nearest one. Whoever’s supposed to be patrolling the castle is on the ground instead of walking about. In this case, a few of them have injuries serious enough that I think we might be too late to help them. Even if we could, do we have the time to help? I don’t mean to sound cold, but every second we dally is another second the perpetrator of this attack runs free to take down more people.
I’m not entirely sure what to think of Melinda and the trio having the exact same discussion and coming to the same conclusion as I have, but the thought travels to the back of my mind as we move forward. The hall connects to a huge lobby that contains a large staircase leading to a mezzanine whose fence matches the stair railing. I feel like I’ve wandered into an old-fashioned theatre house more than a castle, but this is another thought that passes through my head quickly—
—because another rumble races through the walls and floor. It sounds much closer now. In fact, it sounds like it came from beyond the tall, ornate doors at the top of the stairs. Is that a crack of light I’m seeing between the doors? That settles it. We’re going in.
We bolt for it with Jason kicking the door that’s slightly ajar wide open. Donovan darts in front of him immediately, but my eyes focus on the room that’s just been revealed to me. It’s the throne room, judging by the four elaborate wood-and-blue chairs straight ahead of me. More columns line the left and right, ending at the three steps leading to the thrones. Drapery is everywhere except along the walls, where they probably were at an earlier point in the day.
And standing in the middle of the room is Wendell, his sword drawn and several bodies by his feet. I can’t tell how many of them are alive, if any, but I do notice this after a second: Commander Redford and the princess are off to my left with the former keeping a close eye on Wendell. The latter, meanwhile, glances our way for a second before turning to some well-dressed woman that must be her mother.
Wendell’s facing us newcomers straight on, and his brown eyes are practically bugging out of their sockets right now. He also looks like he’s seen better days, what with the dirt and scratches on his brown leather armor. I wonder briefly if maybe I’ve drawn the wrong conclusion, but the deadly glare in the commander’s eyes leaves no room for doubt—Wendell’s the traitor.
Jason readies his sword, scowling away. “You! How could you do this? How did you do it?”
Every golden brown hair on Mister Betrayer’s head and face seems to prick up a bit. “How did you all find me so fast? I thought everything was well-hidden! No one suspected a thing!”
“Well, someone did,” says Melinda, stepping up next to Jason. Donovan soon joins her.
While I appreciate that she was trying not to allude to me directly, the crooked snarl in the corner of Wendell’s mouth tells me he already knows. It doesn’t take me long to figure out how: he must’ve overheard me when I was talking to Commander Redford before about my suspicions. And now that I see all the damage around me, I have to wonder if he’s the only traitor around these parts. That’ll be one of the things I ask him when I get the chance.
“Oh, right. Her.” Wendell turns now to face me—well, not quite me, per sé, so much as everyone in my general direction. It helps that they’ve moved to stand between him and me, but that hasn’t quite obscured me from his view.
Meanwhile, desperate as I am to grab a weapon, I’m not near any of the fallen knights. Besides that, I can’t move without letting him know I’m up to something. No one in front of me can really move, either, for the same reason. Stupid blasted standoff.
Wendell faces us more directly, relaxing his stance just a smidge. “I have to admit, I wasn’t planning to do all this today. I wanted a few things in the right places to pull it off perfectly, but someone has forced my hand into executing this move early.”
Erika lets out one of those not impressed grunts. “Fat lot of good that’s done you. Now you’re surrounded, and everyone knows you’re guilty of what’s happened here.”
“Exactly,” adds Jason. “So spill it. What are you up to? Why did you turn on us like this? What do you gain from it?”
Wendell sneers at them, crossing his arms over his chest. “Trust me, young ones, when I say that there are greater things afoot than you know. When all is said and done, the slate will be clean, and we can start again in a whole new era!”
If he weren’t so dangerous right now, I think I would’ve openly slapped my forehead upon hearing those classic villain lines he just threw out there. He might as well punctuate that last sentence with an obviously evil laugh—and while he’s laughing, we can jump him. But he stays quiet, as if laughing would be to out-of-character for him.
Instead, he goes on with his speech. “Taura and Scorpus are mere children playing at power games. They only think they can protect the people with the Phoenix Stones. They have no idea that there is only one true master that deserves to rule the world—and once he’s free, they’ll both realize just how small they really are.”
“So it’s true, then,” says Franco. “You wanted Taura and Scorpus to fight each other so you could use it as cover for your activities, didn’t you?”
Wendell puts up his hands in mock surrender. “That was the plan, I’ll admit. It was also part of the plan to take subtle control over a few key royals, like the Queen of Taura and the King of Scorpus. Not that I can do that right now, of course—not with all of you here.”
“You’ll go nowhere near my mother if you know what’s good for you,” says the princess, her tone cold. As she speaks, she stands beside Redford and in front of the unconscious royal on the floor. “Now tell me this, traitor—for whom, or with whom, do you work?”
“Answer, Wendell,” Redford orders. “You’d be a fool to fight us all.”
“Would I be? I’ve already taken down a number of guards. As per your question, Your Highness, I confess that I’m working alone. There’s no such thing as trust, you see. It’s why peace never lasts. More importantly, I’ve shown you but a fraction of what I’m truly capable of. I’ve worked too hard on this plan to be set back here!”
“Wait, that’s ridiculous,” I say. “How did you take out all these guards by yourself? You don’t look like a magic user.”
Wendell shoots a look at me. At the same time, he lowers his hands to his sides, and his shoulders slump like I’ve completely stolen his thunder. Not going to lie—I probably have. But what he said just now doesn’t add up for one major reason.
He tries to insist, “I just said I’ve shown but—”
“A fraction of your power. Yeah, I got that,” I tell him, “but that makes no sense. You’ve caused way too much noise for the people outside not to notice, and yet no one’s come running in except for us. That would mean either everyone else out there is deaf or someone’s keeping them in the dark. Someone you’re working with on your big plan.” There’s also the possibility that this is just an oversight by the author, but no one’s going to believe me if I bring that up.
Wendell gives me a look—first a curious glint in his eye, then a slight cock of the head. He holds that face long enough for me to wonder if he heard what I said, adding a touch of familiarity to this. Then suddenly, he rights himself and proclaims, “How very clever you are for piecing that all together.”
That’s when it hits me. That look he had was the same one I saw on Melinda when I asked her about the plank ex machina way back when. And just like back then, I think the narrative is changing to accommodate what I’ve pointed out.
It’s all I can think before a magical force suddenly shoves me, the trio, Melinda, and Donovan off to the right. If I had to compare it to something, it would have to be an arm sweeping junk from the middle of a desk space over to the side. In this case, the arm swept in from behind us. Now we’re all sprawled on the ground as I watch someone in a plain, black wizard’s robe stroll into the throne room.
Me and my big mouth.
Jason’s quick to identify the newcomer. “He’s from Scorpus!”
“Very astute, boy.” And with that, Wendell kicks him in the side.
Then the traitor rushes to meet the Scorpus wizard guy, and they both stop when they’re right in front of Donovan. When I try to move, an invisible force keeps me down. From the way everyone else is struggling to stand, I’d guess I’m not the only one affected. This has to be the dark wizard’s fault.
“What is going on?” he asks.
“I ran into a complication, Dorian,” replies Wendell. “This group managed to overhear us despite your magic, and as you can see, we now have too much company.”
“Did you complete your part of the plan?”
“No. And now there’s no time.”
“I see. Then let’s bail.” Without missing a beat, Dorian uses another spell to keep us still before grabbing Wendell’s arm. A ring of light appears beneath their feet, and when it disappears, it takes the two traitors with it.
Once they’re gone, the force keeping me pinned disappears like it was never there to begin with. I rise to my feet as soon as I notice, just like everyone else. That’s when I hear the faint sound of footsteps approaching. A few seconds later, the throne room doors burst wide open, revealing a pack of three knights.
“Your Majesty! Your Highness!” As soon as they call out those phrases, the knights run to the sides of the princess and the queen. Three break away to tend to Commander Redford and the rest of us.
But to be honest, the shuffling around we do goes by in a blur for me. I’m only half aware that we’re escorted to some healers in a nearby wing of the castle because I’m still thinking about the appearance of Dorian. One thought dominates all the others that might’ve passed through my head.
I caused it. I made him appear. My mention of a logic gap caused the narrative to correct itself. I changed it. Knowing this scares me way more than when I first discovered my effect on the book world. Way more.
Because if I’m not careful about what I say, I could jeopardize everything.