Untitled and Unfinished, Ch. 7
I bet you’re thinking that it’s entirely possible that this twist was always in the story, and I just didn’t know it like all the characters in the book. Believe me, I’d love for that to be true, but part of me has doubts about that. It has everything to do with a character giving me that combination of a head tilt, a curious look, and a delayed response to something I’ve said. If I hadn’t seen that look twice under similar circumstances—if I didn’t figure out already that I had some influence over how this story unfolds—I would think the whole incident with Wendell and Dorian had been planned all along to occur when and how it did.
Except that wasn’t what it was at all. That was entirely my fault. Whatever the situation was originally, I just made it worse. I bet if I ask, I’ll see the whole book world has changed to take Dorian’s existence into account.
Actually, yeah. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I should ask one of my group members if they recall what Wendell was saying before I said he was being ridiculous. I know what he said, but will everyone remember it like I did? Or will they remember him saying something completely different? Will they carry on like a change never took place, just like when Melinda did when I asked her about the plank ex machina?
Goodness. I never thought having some subtle reality warping powers would be so frightening. Then again, I never thought I’d have any such powers at all, but neither did I ever think it would be possible for me to be transported into a book world. In any case, I’m pretty sure I know what my answer is going to be, but a big part of me is wishing that I’ll be proven wrong.
Only one way to find out.
If you’re wondering, I haven’t left the healer’s room since I arrived. Neither has anyone else who was with me earlier, even though we’ve checked out fine compared to the more seriously injured knights. Only the princess has left the room because she needs to direct the remaining knights in securing the safety of the castle.
The healer’s room is inside the right wing, assuming you take the stairs down from the throne room. It’s pretty spacious, but it’s a bit hard to tell with all the cots scattered around. Two tables with folded towels on top, a stack of empty wash bins, and drawers of who-knows-what are up against the back wall, flanked by two tall but slim windows. Outside, I can see the sun beginning to set, bathing everything in that semi yellow-orange glow that comes from it.
We’ve been waiting on the okay to leave the room, but so far, that hasn’t happened. I’m guessing other knights were hurt that we either didn’t see or weren’t brought to this room, and the healers are busy tending to them now. No one’s said much since our own arrival, but by now, I can see the newbie three fidgeting to various degrees. I don’t blame them. It’s hard to sit still after what Wendell and Dorian pulled on us.
In fact, after sharing glances with his two friends and swinging his feet, Jason finally arcing his head back and lets a breath vent through clenched teeth. “We should be doing something. Someone needs to track down the traitors, and we’re not hurt. We’re also the only other people aware of what’s happened.”
On the next bed over, Erika rolls her eyes, barely paying attention to the knife she’s been tossing up and down. “That’s the fifth time you’ve said that.”
“Because it’s true!” Jason rises to his feet, throwing his hands up. “We were fine a few hours ago, so we could’ve gone! We could be on their trail right now instead of being stuck in here doing nothing!”
Erika stops throwing the knife, and her tone of voice grows sharp. “Where would we begin, though? They warped away in one of those big fancy magic circles. Poof! Just like that. Believe me, I’d love to track them down, but I can’t follow invisible magic trails.”
Part of me wants to chime in with another bit of caution, but I keep quiet. I want to see how this scene goes without adding any of my interference.
“Isn’t there some kind of spell that can track them?” The boy in red looks to his green-clad friend.
Franco, in turn, gives an uncertain shake of his head and bob of his shoulders. “I don’t know. The only way anyone’s ever kept track of where a warp circle transports someone is through a specialized network, and the only time I’ve seen one of those is back at the academy. Those warp circles also remained drawn on the ground so a person wouldn’t have to maintain each one. The circle that Scorpus sorcerer used wouldn’t have left anything behind for us to track, same as any other person who uses a warp spell.”
“On top of that, we have no idea what direction they went in.” Commander Redford’s voice cuts in like a teacher entering a classroom, drawing all attention to herself. “Wendell spent much of his time ranting about why he chose to betray us, all to distract us from what his ally was doing.”
Glancing around allows me to catch Donovan shaking his head. “What a fool. And it’s sadly ironic the two kingdoms are trying hard to mend fences and maintain peace… and now a traitor from each country works together to destroy them both.”
Jason punches the palm of his other hand. “There has to be something we can do. I know I for one am not going to sit around while those two guys run free.”
“As soon as we figure out how,” Erika reminds him. This time, Jason answers with just a huff.
“I understand your urgency, but to go into this without any information or even a plan would be suicide,” says the commander.
“I know that.” Yet something in the boy’s muttered statement suggests to me that he really doesn’t want to admit it.
After that, the conversation goes into a lull. It’s now or never for my question. I clear my throat, vaguely aware that I’ve caught a few eyes turning my way. “Say… do any of you remember what Wendell said before I called him ridiculous?”
Another pause hits, so I look up—only to see five blank stares locked on me. They don’t do the head tilt, but that blank stare is the same as—uh-oh. Did that statement I asked about get retconned out?
But just as I finish that thought, everyone’s faces return to what they were, and Redford answers my question. “Other than pointing out that Wendell had a partner, I don’t recall you saying anything of the sort. What he told us before you poke was just as I said.” Everyone else nods in agreement.
Huh. I guess that answers that. And I’m the only one aware that a change has happened. Crap, crap— no, I can’t panic. Better drop the subject now while I can.
“You wouldn’t happen to have an idea of where Wendell and his friend may have gone, would you?” Jason asks me. “I mean, you made a really good prediction that allowed us to save the royal family. Can you use your prophet powers to find the traitors?”
“I assure you, I’m not a prophet. But, well….” I stutter a bit more, trying to piece together the plot details I know so far to better answer his question. “If I remember Wendell’s speech correctly, I think he and Dorian might have a base somewhere near the Aura Gate. I don’t know where exactly. It just makes sense for them to have some kind of base near the Gate since they’re probably weakening it. As for where they are right now… I have no idea.”
“You make a fair point,” said Redford, “but is there a chance you can deduce more?”
I shrink into myself, not knowing how much I should say. “That would depend on how warp magic works. How far away can you go if you use a warp spell?”
“If you have a network set up, you can go anywhere there’s another warp circle to catch you,” says Franco. “If you don’t, then the maximum distance you can send yourself is ten miles.”
Ten miles, ten miles… that’s about sixteen kilometers. That would be murder to travel in a horse-drawn carriage, so having a spell that can transport you the same distance faster than even a modern car is unbelievably handy in this world. Unfortunately, it also means we probably wouldn’t have been able to catch up even if we had started pursuing the two traitors right away. Like the commander said, we’re stuck without a direction to follow.
“Warp magic is complex,” Franco continues, “so practitioners can cast only one warp spell per day. Afterwards, a practitioner will have to refrain from using magic for the remaining hours in the day. In fact, I believe the usual advice regarding this is to rest yourself after the exertion.”
“Hmm….” Commander Redford brings a hand to her chin, thinking. “If that’s the case, then I imagine Wendell and his Scorpus ally didn’t go far after they arrived at wherever the warp spell took them. They would’ve needed to set up a camp to spend the night.”
“They also can’t be at the Aura Gate right now,” says Erika. “That’s way farther than ten miles north of here, and I doubt they set up some fancy network so close to the capital. Otherwise, they’d risk someone else finding it. If they’re smart, they’re probably hiding in the most nondescript place imaginable—in the woods, in a cave, somewhere that’s not crowded with people.”
Franco gives her a bewildered look. “You really think so?”
“Yeah. I’m good at sneaking around, remember? So I know where, when, and how to hide.” She offers a wink and a smirk, the most pep I’ve seen her sport since our time in town before.
“But we have no other clue on where they went other than outside the capital city, do we?” I ask.
Erika shakes her head at that.
The doors to the room opens, and the majestic figure of Princess Vivian walks in. She looks like she glides in, actually, since the bottom hem of her dress hides her feet. How does she not trip over it? Wait—better not ask that out loud or she might trip for real. Anyway, once she’s made her way to us, she bows.
“Thank you for your help,” she says. “Because of you, the traitors weren’t able to do more than injure the knights in the castle, and no member of the royal family has been harmed. Thank you.” The princess straightens up. For a brief second, I see a trace of a smile on her face before it fades into stoicism. “I sent out scouts in all directions to search for the traitors immediately after they left. So far, the groups that have returned have reported no sign of them.”
“How is the security of the castle and the capital city?” asks Redford.
The princess’s head dips over so slightly, her face crestfallen. “With so many knights wounded, we’re spread quite thin. We can barely spare just two knights to a post for the capital alone, never mind the castle. Most of those who were hurt by the traitors will recover soon, but the captains were among those who require more intensive care. It will be a few weeks at least before we have our teams fully operational again.”
“I see.” The commander stands, puts her feet together, and bumps her right fist over her heart. “In that case, allow me to send for more of my troops to assist with the defense in the meantime. I have reason to believe the traitors will wage another assault on the royal family, and we can’t afford to have holes in the security of the capital. To that end, I will station myself here to help oversee the defense.”
Princess Vivian perks up at this, then nods her head. “I accept. On behalf of my mother and myself, I accept.”
That makes sense. Commander Redford is someone the princess trusts. Whatever history they have probably accounts for that. I kind of wish the narrative had time to delve into some of it, but maybe my presence here has caused the story to skip over that by accident. Or maybe I just haven’t reached the point where it would become relevant. It has to be one or the other.
My thoughts are cut off once Redford asks, “Where is the queen now?”
“She’s helping to organize the outer defenses of the capital,” replies the princess. “I just finished assigning posts for the castle defenses. My mother and I were both present at the castle gate when the scouts gave their reports, and we’re waiting to hear from the last two.”
“All right, then I know what I need to do.” The commander turns her attention to the rest of us. “Tonight, all of us will remain here and help with the defenses. Then, first thing in the morning, I want Melinda and Donovan to return to base and report what happened here to the lieutenants. Organize the rest of your squad and bring them here. Tell Borson and Tamara to mobilize their squads as well; they’ll be joining us here in the capital. The other squads should remain in Gravelton and defend it like usual.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the two Redford Guards say together.
Jason motions to his friends, himself, and me. “What about us?”
The commander exchanges a serious look with the princess, waits for her to nod, then turns back to Mister Red. “I’ll let you know in the morning. By then, we should have all the information you’ll need for the task I have in mind.”
“What’s the task?”
“It will require further explanations later, but the long and short of it is… I figure that we can use a few sneaks to catch some other sneaks.”
It takes a few seconds for it to sink in, but then Jason turns to his friends wide-eyed, and they return the look. Before they can even think to cheer about their assignment, though, Redford reminds them to keep their heads cool for now and to focus on their patrol duties for tonight.
As for me, well… I’m not sure how I’m going to fit into the next section of the story. I’m not a combatant, and the characters must remember that because nowhere in Redford’s assignments has she mentioned me. In addition, I’m a complete outsider to their situation in more ways than one. They still may have trepidations about involving a foreign civilian into their problems, just like the commander told me when we first met.
But I know what’s coming. The three newbies are going to be sent to look for the Phoenix Stones, and in the meantime, they’re to find the two traitors. Both tasks will crisscross with each other, causing them to clash with the traitors a couple times. Odds are pretty good that this will put them in a position to save the world.
It sounds like I’ve seen this a million times before, doesn’t it? You’d be right about that, actually, considering what my job is in the real world. But if I’m being completely honest here—and this thought just occurred to me—I’m starting to think there’s a slightly different reason why I’ve been able to guess all of that out.
This story—and I mean this specific story—is starting to sound kind of familiar.
I just can’t put my finger on why.