Untitled and Unfinished, Ch. 13

Chapter Index

Erika throws one of her knives at Dorian, but a flick of his hand causes the blade to bounce off a flat pane of golden light. Before she can throw another one, he points at her and proceeds to mock the tone of a parent. “Now, now, Erika. It’s not nice to throw things.”

The book glows brighter again while Erika doubles over, grabbing her head as she tries to fight off the spell. I keep thinking she’ll succeed, but the seconds tick by, and all that changes is that she stands straight up like Matt and Franco before her. Then when she turns around, my stomach curls seeing her stare blankly at Jason and me.

Jason and me. Crap. We’re the only ones left.

Mister Red points his sword at Dorian, legs ready to spring forward. “Let them go, monster!”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” says the dark wizard. “And you might want to think twice before you move. There’s not a lot of room in here with all of us together like this.”

With a little wave of his hand, he summons Matt, Erika, and Franco to stand between himself and us. Naturally, Jason doesn’t move, which completes the stalemate. Can we have another scene change? Please?

This time, nothing happens. I’m not sure why. Am I just too scared to focus? Maybe. Regardless of the reason, I’m at a loss for what to do. Fighting’s no good; Dorian’s made sure of that. So what now?

Speaking of the wizard, he lets out a low laugh. “Now, just to make sure no one does anything stupid… Franco, Erika, why don’t you restrain your friend? Wouldn’t want him to hurt you, right?”

“Guys, don’t listen to him!” Jason says.

Unfortunately, that mind control must be pretty strong because Mister Green and Miss Blue don’t respond. They approach Mister Red instead, tossing his sword to the ground and grabbing him by the arms. He struggles against their pull as they bring him closer to the mural.

Leaving Matt to the side, Dorian advances forward. As he goes, he almost passes by me on the way—except instead of ignoring me like I’m hoping, he whips his head to look at me with dark brown eyes. Uh-oh.

“Oh, right. You. The stranger.” Now he turns his whole body to face me. “You’re something of an unknown factor, or so I hear. But I know a way to make sure that won’t matter.”

I open my mouth to speak, but words fail me.

Nearby, Jason calls out, “Leave her alone!”

But Dorian ignores him, focusing completely on me. “No. From this point on, you won’t cause any more trouble for us… Claire.”

The book glows, and my brain is screaming no over and over again.

I’m already stiff as a board, so I don’t jerk much—but after the book’s glow regresses to barely visible, I notice that I don’t feel any different from before. Why do I feel the same? He cast his spell, right? Why doesn’t anything seem to have changed?

Wait. Both Dorian and Franco implied that knowing someone’s true name would allow a mage to mind control another person. But I haven’t given my real name to anyone. I only told Commander Redford my name was Claire in case some clause like that actually existed in this story. By extension, that’s the name Wendell must’ve given Dorian. As far as all the characters are concerned, my name is Claire.

I’ll let them keep thinking that, then—especially the evil wizard. His smug expression hasn’t changed since he tried to cast his spell on me, so he must not have spotted anything off about how I reacted compared to everyone not named Jason. In that case, I should play along.

“Be a dear, Claire, and pick up that sword,” says the wizard.

Nope. He hasn’t noticed a thing. Time to play up the mindless puppet act. The other mind-controlled subjects have moved stiff and direct when given orders, so I do the same as I approach Jason’s sword and pick it up by the hilt. I don’t move again until I hear the command to stand beside the sword’s owner.

Said owner still has a fire brewing behind his eyes. I have to hand it to him for being far less scared than I am despite the situation. I mean, as far as anyone else knows, only Jason hasn’t been mind controlled by Nefarious Wizard Man yet. What’s he waiting for? Gloating time?

“Still defiant, are we?” Now that he’s facing Mister Red directly, Dorian sighs and shakes his head. “I don’t know whether to call you courageous or blind.”

Well. That answers that.

In response, Jason spits at our enemy, but they’re too far apart for it to hit the intended target. “I don’t care what you call me.”

“Of course you don’t. You’re going to die soon anyway—killed by your own friends.”

“Why? To entertain yourself? Is that why you’re trying to bring down Taura and Scorpus?”

Dorian taps his foot, looking away like he’s debating something to himself. It doesn’t last long “I admit that making people kill each other is fun, but in this case, I’m sure this will break the spirits of your friends once I let them go. I’d kill them myself afterwards. As for the two kingdoms… I’m just tired of them.”

I have to restrain myself from commenting on how dumb that sounds, all while keeping still. Can’t drop the ruse too quickly, you know?

So Jason says it for me. “Tired of them? What kind of stupid reason is that?”

Dorian rolls his eyes, but when he goes on, his tone betrays a deep level of bitterness. “If you must know, it’s because they’re too full of themselves to admit their own wrongdoings. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but neither kingdom is free of sin. Scorpus and Taura have been aggressors in the past; they just don’t want to admit it. And because they can’t keep the peace for longer than a decade, people in every generation have lost loved ones to either full-on wars or small skirmishes. If you think you’re the only one who’s lost family, think again.”

Jason studies the wizard, stopping the last of his struggling. “You, too, huh?”

“Scorpus conscripted my brothers. My mother smuggled me into the Sorcerer’s Academy in enemy territory so I wouldn’t meet the same fate. Supposed bandits from Taura started a skirmish… and when I graduated, I was alone.” Dorian crosses his arms, his eyes closing for just a second. “My time at the academy taught me many things. One of those things is that no matter how capable we are of changing, no one’s ever willing. If a change is going to happen on a large scale, we have to force it.”

“So—” Jason shakes his head, puzzled at first, but then it’s replaced by well-controlled anger. “You want to release the Plague Drift into the world just to give the two kingdoms a common enemy?”

“No. To wipe the slate clean.”

“You really think that’s going to make things better? Didn’t the legends alone tell you that the Plague Drift doesn’t discriminate? You’re going to kill a lot of people doing this.”

“That’s the idea.”

Their argument goes on longer, but it’s clear to me that Dorian is dead set on his twisted idea of bringing peace, so he won’t acknowledge Jason’s defense of cooperation. While they continue to talk past each other, something hits me. The longer they talk, the longer Jason has to think of a plan to free himself.

Ah-hah. I understand how this is supposed to go now. In the original version of this scene, Dorian’s overconfidence would’ve compelled him to stand an arm’s length away from Jason. The young hero then would’ve taken advantage of that foolish maneuver by breaking free of his mind-controlled friends and bum-rushing the evil wizard, after which he would break the spell—somehow.

Wait, how would someone break the spell? Wreck the book? Franco’s cast plenty of spells without a book, but Dorian’s has glowed every time he’s inflicted mind control on someone. There must be a connection. Is that enough in this case? Would all I have to do is damage the book to free the others?

Only one way to find out—and if that fails, maybe I can give our red-clad hero the opening he needs.

“You know what I think?” Jason asks. “You gave up. You’re not out to improve anything; you just want to bring everyone down with you. Instead of trying to think of how to make things better, you decided you’d destroy the world because it would be easier! You may know our names, but you don’t know how to live!”

That must’ve really stung Dorian because he punches Jason across the face, growling the whole way. “You think I know nothing? You’re little more than a child blind to the flaws around you! One simple observation, one simple study of history, should’ve told you I’m right!”

But Jason looks right back at him, burning eyes and all. “One ‘simple observation’ told me the world’s only as bad as I make it to be.”

Okay. I think the hero has a point here. Not that I don’t sympathize with the enemy’s back story there, but he really is going down a dark road to solving the problems he perceives. It’s a sad case where he’s become exactly the destroyer he despises.

The dark wizard turns away furious, and the motion sends his cape flying until he’s facing Jason again. He sounds like he’s about to shout something, but nothing coherent comes out until after he takes a couple breaths. “We’re done here. Claire! End him!”

All right. Moment of truth. I move to stand in front of Jason, who bears the slightest hint of a begging face once I’m there. As for Dorian, he’s right behind me—closer to me than my young friend, actually. I have enough room to lift the sword and thrust it forward, so I can use that to fool my would-be puppet master. He’s my real target, and I need him within striking distance.

My back is to the wizard. He won’t see my expression until it’s too late. With that in the back of my mind, I smile and wink at Jason. I don’t stay still long enough to see how my friend reacts; I whip around instead and ram the butt of the sword into Dorian’s side with the quickest, hardest blow I can manage. That yelp of surprise and pain is morbidly glorious to hear.

With a sharp pivot, I spy the black book on the ground, having dropped from its owner’s grasp. My body goes on autopilot and brings me to the book, after which my hands and arms plunge the blade straight into the leather and paper. Whatever faint glow was around it before blinks out like its circuits are busted.

I look up to see the rest of the commotion around me. Jason is already free of Erika and Franco’s holds and laying a martial arts smackdown on Dorian. Stabbing the book must’ve broken the spell because all three members of the trio help each other in keeping the wizard off balance. Also, those who were mind controlled before have lost their blank stares. All of them, including Matt, bear intense focus in their eyes.

Dorian finally stays down when Erika pins the arms of his robe and the edges of his pants to the ground with a few well-thrown knives. Though the wizard struggles to get up, he stops when Matt points his sword at his chin. After retrieving his own sword, Jason does the same.

“H-how?” asks our enemy, who eyes me in particular. “How could you move like that? I spoke your name and cast the spell! How could you have broken free?”

I’m not scared anymore, so I stand straight and cross my arms. “You’re the magic graduate. That means you should know exactly how that spell works, so you tell me how I broke free.”

“Let’s save that for later,” says Matt—or rather, Prince Mathias. “Right now… I want this traitor to be aware that I heard everything he said while under that spell.”

The look of surprise and defeat on the wizard’s face is ever so sweet.

“You should also know that I have been working with Princess Vivian of Taura on peace efforts. My father and her mother don’t quite see eye to eye, but the princess and I share the same ideals. That’s why we’re the chief ambassadors. We believe a lasting peace can be brought to both kingdoms.” Matt inches his sword just a bit closer to Dorian’s chin. “But we can’t do that if your plans succeed. You may think you know what kind of destruction you’ll bring about, or even that you can control it, but I assure you—you don’t.”

“You think you know better than I?” asks a defiant Dorian.

“Yes.” And with that, Mathias crouches down and punches him into unconsciousness.

Erika raises an eyebrow as the prince stands again. “You only knocked him out?”

“He must be tried for crimes against the realm, as per my country’s law,” says Mathias. “Among other things, we identified him as one of the thieves who took my kingdom’s Phoenix Stone. Even if he is sentenced to death, I will not kill him here before he’s given a trial.”

“We need some way to keep him restrained, then.” Erika looks between each of us. “Anyone got a rope?”

That’s a good question, actually—but before anyone else can answer, Mathias procures a rope from his bag. According to him, he brought it along in case he needed to dive down into a hole to find the Phoenix Stone. Now he goes to use it to tie up our traitor.

Mentioning the Phoenix Stone, of course, brings us back to why even he came out here in the first place. Jason slaps his forehead and then proceeds to speak for the rest of us. “I can’t believe I almost forgot that!”

A sheepish Franco laughs and scratches the back of his head. “To be fair, we were focused on finding ‘Matt’ for Sister Therese.”

“But we also told her we were looking for the Phoenix Stone,” comes Erika’s deadpan retort. The mage in green can’t do much other than hang his head in embarrassment. Well, at least he’s not alone. I’m feeling some of it, too.

“I see I’ve picked up quite the motley crew,” says the prince. “Are you all from Taura, by chance? The patterns on your cloaks made me wonder.”

The trio exchange glances, then nod. Each of them introduces their own name before Jason points to me. “And she’s Claire. We don’t know where she’s from, but she’s not from Taura.”

“‘Claire’ doesn’t seem to be her real name, either.” Franco eyes me with only a semi-serious glare, and I say that because he’s kind of smirking, it looks like.

In any case, I’ve been given my cue to speak. How do I explain this without sounding crazy to the rest of them? I haven’t done this in a while, so it takes me a second to respond. “I, uh… I kind of foresaw that using my real name would be dangerous, so when I was asked to state my name, I gave an alias instead. That’s all.”

Erika lets loose a knowing laugh. “And she says she’s not a prophet.”

I’m not, strictly speaking, but I can’t argue with them on this effectively. Better just hold my tongue.

Mathias finishes tying Dorian’s arms together by this point, so he rises and motions for us to follow him to the mural. Once there, he calls Jason over to stand next to him.

“Let us both put our hands on this spot.” The prince highlights the spot in question as the darker indent of the three circles. “If either of us is worthy of the Stone, the chamber should unlock itself.”

Mister Red nods. “All right.”

So both prince and peasant put their hands on the indent. No overlap, though; their hands only touch at the thumbs. Nothing happens at first, much like when we were waiting for the door to this shrine to open. Sure enough, something big and stony moves after a few seconds. In computer terms, it’s like the security system needed time to evaluate the identities of the people it scanned. In any case, a square indentation materializes in the mural, and a slab of stone moves back about two centimeters before sliding down behind the rest of the rock wall.

A golden light shines from the hole, which is wide enough for both guys to reach in. However, Mathias’s hand reacts as if he hit something solid; by contrast, Jason’s slips right through. The former doesn’t take this too hard, though.

Instead, he makes a quiet laugh. “It seems the Phoenix Stone decided to reveal itself to you.”

Jason reaches in a little further and then withdraws his hand. That’s when I see it—a shining orb like a softball-sized marble that emits its own gold light from its center. It’s a stunning sight. The red-clad hero seems distracted by something, though.

The prince must’ve caught on because he asks, “Do you not believe me? The proof rests in your hand now.”

“It’s not that, although I am kind of surprised.” Jason grasps the Stone tighter and looks away. “It’s just, after hearing what you said earlier… I have to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

It takes him a moment of catching his breath, but finally, Jason speaks up. “Look… I never liked Scorpus much growing up. I stopped trusting them after losing family to them, and that hasn’t changed. It might take a while longer before it does. That’s why I was kind of cold when we met. But even I know being all angry and mistrustful is just going to make things worse. I’ve known that for a few years… but I don’t think I really got it until I was arguing with that Scorpus wizard just now.” One big sigh later, and he says, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry I didn’t trust you when we met.”

Mathias smiles and gives a small nod to all of that. “You have nothing to apologize for. Recall that I was hiding my identity when we met. Also, I was not completely myself, thanks to him.” He gestures to the out-cold Dorian. “If anything, you showed the proper amount of precaution.”

“Maybe, but I was angrier than I should’ve been. So… sorry.”

“Think no more of it.” The prince turns to the entrance of the shrine. “As of now, we should focus on returning to the temple, and then to Taura.”

Jason nudges him. “Sister Therese would like to see you safe, too.” All he receives in response is an amused but puzzled look.

The prince has a good point, though—we need to get moving. He lets Mister Red go ahead of him; meanwhile, the young hero slips the Phoenix Stone away into a bag. When he passes by Erika, she pokes him to draw his attention to her.

“So you finally believe me after all these years, huh?” She punctuates this with a teasing I-told-you-so face.

Mister Red must’ve caught on because he smirks and pokes her back. “Yeah. But I still don’t owe you anything.”

“Are you kidding? I’ve been waiting on that necklace for, like, ages now!”

“I thought it was a meal,” says Franco.

“I thought there wasn’t a deal,” Jason corrects. Before any further protest goes out, he leaves the chamber with his two friends trailing close behind.

Mathias hoists Dorian over his shoulder, then motions for me to go ahead of him. “After you, Miss.”

“Oh—er, thanks.” I bow my head and walk out.

That officially marks the start of our journey back.

All right, so… how was I even remotely aware that some spell would be in play that requires the caster to know one’s true name? How could I have known that way back when if I wasn’t familiar with this story before?

Well, that’s just it. I am familiar with it, kind of. More so now than I was before, actually. I haven’t had time to really digest it all since we started pursuing Dorian and Wendell, but now, I remember this story.

About a year ago, I was sifting through a submission that had come to the publishing company. Out of the many manuscripts I received that day, I think I accepted only five of them. Of those five, one submission consisted of sample chapters of a fantasy-adventure story. It had quite a few typos, but it honestly wasn’t too bad, so I requested the full manuscript from the author.

Once I had the whole thing in my hands, I read through it and noticed three major issues. The first was its pace, which moved slower than molasses because of how many character development points it reiterated. The second was how several scenes didn’t exactly flow from one to the next so much as jerked into it, which made for some iffy clarity in many places. The third problem was the only thing I couldn’t mentally work out a fix for, and that was the lack of an ending. It was like following a road, only to discover that it stops in the middle of nowhere. But despite all that, I also remember the story being pretty good, just hobbled by the flaws.

That’s how I summed it up to my boss, anyway. It would take too long to break down every little detail that warranted the broader critiques I talked about, so I won’t delve into them now. What I can say is that I remember the stern but reasonable commander briefing the young heroes on their task, as well as the whole scene of an evil wizard using mind control on everyone except the sword guy. You know how I figured the scene would’ve played out without me back there? That’s actually how it happened in the original manuscript. Believe me, even I’m surprised I remembered that.

You know what else the manuscript was missing? A title. That’s right—a 155,000-word submission came to my inbox with no title and no ending, plus the other flaws I described already. But it had an author. I think the name was Lisa Kalina. Kalimo? Kalamana…? Okay, so that hasn’t come back to me so clearly—but I’ll know one of those names is right if Cloaky responds to any of them.

We just have to find her—and when we do, I should ask her about the rejection letter I sent. It was more of a rejected-now-but-try-again letter, but I have a feeling that’s the root of the real problem on my hands.

But for now, I should see through the rest of the story. Doing that will more than likely take me right to Cloaky, and therefore, to the bottom of this whole mess.

Chapter Index


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